It's time to reflect on how far we've come and how little we've won on this 33rd World Aids Day. Despite the fact that South Africa has the world's biggest antiretroviral treatment (ART) program, despite scientific advances and research, despite bold pledges and good intentions, one reality remains glaringly evident. The virus is triumphant.HIV in SA."/>
We made a mistake by treating HIV as yet another chronic ailment, alongside diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, all of which are big deaths in South Africa. The difference is that HIV carries a great deal of extra baggage – guilt and humiliation in the afflicted, as well as condemnation and scorn from the community.
No other illness imposes such a high burden. No other sickness imposes both outward and emotional shame on the afflicted. We have the test kits on hand. We have the medications. Stigma continues to be a major impediment to reducing HIV infections. Even the most innovative scientific therapies will fail as long as stigma exists among us.
Only HIV exacts a high price in terms of contempt and rejection when infected individuals dare to announce their status. HIV continues to be linked with promiscuity, immorality, and bewitchment due to stigma. We may be able to conceal ourselves behind these preconceptions for the time being, but not for long.
HIV makes no distinction between male and female, transgender and non-binary, young and old, black and white, gay and straight, or good and evil. HIV does not inquire as to whether we deserve to be infected. HIV asks just that we be human. Nobody is exempt. If you believe you are immune to HIV, you are incorrect.
We cannot accept medications while disregarding bias in the fight to control HIV infections. We cannot continue burying our dear ones while we are unable to pronounce the term Aids. We cannot continue to enable people sick to wallow in humiliation while allowing others to criticise, insult, and harm them. We cannot continue to cry quietly and mourn alone.
Fear, guilt, and humiliation all have a detrimental effect on the decisions we make. Fear is why a guy who feels sick refuses to see a doctor while exhibiting symptoms and continues to oppose condom usage. Disempowerment is why a woman would refrain from insisting on condom usage for fear of being labeled "loose." Shame keeps us from seeing that individuals who reject us because to our illness are not deserving of our affection or attention. When we believe that getting HIV is our fault and punishment, guilt consumes us on the inside and drives us to self-harm.
I address this to the clinic and the church. While there are some excellent and sympathetic healthcare and spiritual professionals, it is terrible that these cornerstones of our communities, charged with the care of the body and soul, are all too often the targets of severe prejudice and stigma. The Batho Pele (People First) philosophy, announced by the Mandela government in 1997, is only visible on yellowed waiting room posters and is often not implemented. This is the primary reason why marginalized populations avoid obtaining medical assistance.
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