We have made progress in our journey with HIV and AIDS. It used to be an enemy we fought battles against .We managed to weaken HIV but not completely conquer it. It has become a part of our lives and still has some negative impact in our societies. Anti-retro-viral drugs have changed everything for the better and HIV is no longer a death sentence and people can live their lives to the fullest.
The face of HIV has also changed in Africa. It’s no longer the image of a wasted hopeless victim but we now have survivors who are victors. However society still needs to address a lot of prejudices surrounding HIV and AIDS. Adverts on HIV still feature adult married people talking about living positively or discordant couples. This is a reality of HIV but just one side of the story.
What about the story of the rejected HIV positive young person regardless of how they got infected? How does a young man explain to his classmates why he could not get circumcised after they were motivated to go for circumcision as a group? Will the young girl who acquired HIV at birth have “normal” relationships, eventually marriage and children? How will the primary school child on a school trip explain to her friends why she has to take a pill at set times every day? I commend the progress we have made in our fight against stigma but HIV is still revolving around that taboo act we love doing but do not like talking about called sexual intercourse. As a result some infected adolescents are sometimes forced not to disclose their status because of stigma and the image of HIV being an immoral adult disease. We are circumcising young man and children for sexually related reasons and yet limit how much they have to know about sex and HIV by denying them access to comprehensive sex education, condoms and contraception.
Are people aware of a possibility to be in a relationship or marry a person of a different HIV status and still maintain your status? Full disclosure and access to information are steps towards making it possible. We should not stop preaching prevention of new infections but we should also look into integrating people living with HIV especially young people into our society. Let their voice be heard and troubles known. Let them share their dreams, hopes and fears. Let us do away with stereotypes and prejudices surrounding HIV and sexual intercourse. This means changing the perception or mind-set of the HIV positive as having brought it upon themselves.