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ON Friday December 1 we celebrated International AIDS Day. I pondered not only on the stigma attached to this disease but also on the ignorance of the majority of our populace. I personally believe that there is no difference between HIV/AIDS and cancer, diabetes, kidney failure etc.

Indeed I believe in this day and age it is important to test at least twice annually for the disease. This reminded me of how much I promised God when I underwent my first HIV/AIDS test, while I waited for my results. Upon exiting the consulting room I had forgotten all my promises. After the initial shock of knowing one’s status, just like in being diagnosed with cancer, one has to accept one’s status and immediately commence treatment.  Today one need only take one ARV daily, not like in days gone by where people took a cocktail of tablets. Upon commencing treatment and ensuring one follows directions the levels of detection (LDL) of the virus drop, making it almost impossible to infect another.  Precautions should still be taken though.

Needless to say, one’s lifestyle will have to change like on being diagnosed with any other disease. There is no difference and I wonder why such a huge thing is made out of this. Indeed tests have been carried out in the UK for the past four years and exactly the same treatment is used to prevent one contracting HIV/AIDS. To date, none of the participants with same sex partners who commenced the treatment have contracted the virus. It is important that one is honest to one’s partner about one’s status so that they can ensure that one not only gets sufficient rest, avoids alcohol, one’s diet is healthy but also that one takes their ARVs at the same time daily. All those on treatment combined with healthy living habits live to a ripe old age. As with any other diseases, it is denial that leads to one’s life being cut short. People with any sort of disease have to have a good support base and should not be treated as outcasts.

In the past, upon being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, counsellors insisted that one should bring somebody one trusted to sit and be educated on the disease with them. This created another problem. It is of course difficult to confide in any family member because in all families in the country, the tendency is to vindictively divulge another’s status. When anyone divulges the HIV status of another to me, they instantly lose all value. As most ‘friends’ are only there for what they can get, when whatever is no longer available to them, they deem it fit to divulge another’s status, stigmatising the person who entrusted them with something so secretive making one feel totally alone, unloved and unappreciated.

Life is too short and I believe, as none of us know when we will die, it is important to extend love, understanding and care towards all irrespective of their HIV statuses. Extending love should never be based on material gain. No one wants to live the rest of their lives with the regret and guilt of having failed to serve another whole heartedly. Together we can reduce the infection rate in our country, by merely changing our perception of this disease.
(For more go to www.inalda.co.sz)

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