We are not Afraid of HIV!
By Thandekile Moyo
I must have been in primary school when I first heard about HIV and AIDS. I remember acting in an AIDS awareness play and I remember hearing whispers here and there, that so and so had the disease or that a neighbour, a relative or family friend had died of the disease.
When I think back to the time, I recall a young family I knew that was totally wiped out by the disease.
First it was the father, and then the mother and young child followed after months of heart-wrenching illness.
Closer to home, I had a cousin who fell victim to the disease. I was really young so all I remember is that she had a wound on her finger that just refused to heal.
I recall accompanying her to the clinic to get it checked out time and again to no avail.
It seemed to just get worse and worse. She had a beautiful baby boy but sadly they both succumbed to the disease.
As an adult, I witnessed the demise of an in-law of mine who just refused to go and get tested, despite visibly being ‘eaten’ away by the disease. Someone eventually convinced her to go and get tested but it was too late.
The disease had progressed and she passed away a short while after getting her results. She left behind a little girl who must be about 18 now and is living with the disease.
There is also a case I know well, of a sickly teenage girl, who tested positive and lamented to the family that she was a virgin and had never been abused.
After months of trying to get to the bottom of the situation, her mother was tested and was shocked when the test came out positive.
This girl had been living with the disease since birth and nobody had a clue.
Imagine the trauma the family went through as all the other siblings had to be tested just in case they were also unknowingly living with the disease. That girl is now a mother and a wife.
I have friends whose parents died of the disease, I have close friends, some already dead and some still alive, who fell victims to this pandemic.
My parents have always openly discussed HIV with my siblings and I and I assume most children raised in the ‘90s have been lectured about these deadly diseases at home, at school, on television, magazines and all over.
Abstinence, condoms and being faithful to one partner are the best ways to protect oneself from contracting the disease and I would be shocked to learn there are people who do not know this!
I am sure almost everyone I know has seen the devastating effects of this deadly disease.
That said, it is devastating that we still have high levels of new infections across Africa.
The aim of raising awareness is to help people have access to information that can help them protect themselves.
It seems to me though that despite being aware of the dangers, we expose ourselves to HIV infections every day.
It is clear that very few people are abstaining as everyone around us seems to be evidently sexually active.
The number of teenage pregnancies is proof that even adolescents, to whom the gospel of abstinence is preached from all corners, are not abstaining.
In this era of social media groups, it has become clear to me that the majority of sexually active people are not using condoms.
Every day, on Facebook and other social sites, I come across stories of pregnancy scares and abortion missions. The few peers who are honest will tell you outright that they actually prefer not to use protection.
Pharmacists will tell you that the morning-after pill is currently one of their fastest moving goods.
Those women who plan ahead are on some kind of birth control and not the condom, showing that the biggest fear of sexually active and fertile women is pregnancy and not HIV.
As for being faithful, monogamy seems to be an ideal that we are unlikely to achieve across the board anytime soon. Gossip tabloids tell us stories of men and women caught cheating on a daily basis.
Our prisons are filled with spouses who murdered their partners over infidelity allegations.
What it means then is that the three things that are meant to protect us from the dreadful disease are those that we are incapable of adhering to.
The fear that I see in the eyes of people waiting for their HIV results has driven me to the conclusion that HIV is just an afterthought! Before the act, we are not afraid of it enough to use protection.
We do not fear it enough to abstain from sexual intercourse and it does not frighten us enough to cause us to stick to one partner!
Fear seems to grip us a little too late, after the deed has been done, and only for a short while seeing as most people claim they get tested every three months. A claim I usually do not believe.
A claim which, if true, shows that after getting tested, one exposes themselves again, gets tested and goes on to get re-exposed. We are, therefore, throughout our lives, always in the window period.
In the heat of the moment, we would rather diagnose our partners with our eyes than go and get tested.
We would rather get infected than lose our boyfriends because we demanded condoms.
We would rather get infected than let that chance to nail the new secretary pass! We find it better to get infected than to insist on abstinence before testing.
We would rather be infected than lose our husbands to their mistresses. We would rather be infected than be healthy, single and alone.
When it comes to sexual issues, we are weak, irrational and would rather die than miss out on the thrill. Human sexuality is unstable, and until we find a cure, HIV is here to stay.