Honouring our holistic caregivers


When we think of heroes in the fight against HIV and AIDS, we often think of governments and international aid organisations for the voice and resources they have availed towards the cause.

We often think of those behind-the-scenes such as medical researchers who chip away at discovering life-saving medication, collect and analyse the data that informs what works and what does not and relentlessly strive with hope for an HIV vaccine and cure.

But it is easy to forget a group of heroes and heroines that is always on the frontline, providing medical and social care to HIV-positive individuals and communities.

As we celebrated the World AIDS Day on December 1, it is important that we show our appreciation to home-based and community HIV caregivers, who have devoted their lives to make a positive impact in the fight against the pandemic.

Since the first clinical case of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was discovered in the early 1980s, the world has gone to great lengths to fight the virus.

Measures to prevent new infections to ensure that those already infected live longer and healthy lives have been put in place.

In 2013, the United Nation’s AIDS report stated that the number of people living with HIV worldwide is 35.3 million, out of which 3.2m were children under the age of 15 years. UNAIDS further reported that an estimated 2.1 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV last year. 

This includes over 240 000 children under the age of 15 years and most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

The reports indicated that although the infected number has decreased by 33 percent since 2001, there is more that still needs to be done.

<p> The AIDS pandemic has created an unprecedented number of orphans. While largely absorbed by extended family, this additional responsibility can weigh heavily on their caregivers. As a matter of fact, the role of community caregivers in addressing stigma and mobilising people to know their HIV status and seek timely prevention and treatment remains essential.

They do not only provide basic health care, but also support those that are affected and encourage those that test negative to acceptance.  

Caregivers spend most of their time visiting homes of people living with HIV and AIDS, helping to de-stigmatise the disease and address the fear and isolation that often accompany it.

Unfortunately, these people are not adequately compensated for their work. Therefore, such people need to be honoured and their work needs more visibility and greater resources if vital health services are going to be strengthened to better respond to the challenges of HIV and AIDS. Therefore, if we are to achieve universal access to AIDS treatment and prevention as well as HIV-free generation, we need to focus our attention and adequately fund those who provide care and support on the ground.

Remember pain relief and palliative care are human rights issues, and governments need to be held accountable.

The best people to hold them accountable are our home-based caregivers, because they see the needs every day on the front line of responding to the health crisis.

Men should contribute more to the fight against this pandemic and not only to get involved when there is payment involved. It is time for that to change.

World AIDS Day is internationally recognised on December 1, as a day when individuals and organisations around the world come together to raise awareness about HIV, celebrate successes in the fight against HIV and remember those who have passed on.

The international theme for World AIDS Day 2014 is “Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV Infections. Zero deaths from AIDS related illness. Zero discrimination”.

December 2014
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