WHY HIV COMMUNICATION NEEDS TO EVOLVE
Like many households in and around South Africa, come Sunday, a copy of the Sunday Times will be spread open somewhere around the house. Our home is no different. Hubby heads straight for the sports section, while I start from the main section, followed by the Lifestyle and then catch up with the Business. Come late afternoon the whole paper will have been read.
Today’s Sunday Times, more specifically in the “The A-Listers” section of the paper there’s an article by Alex Patrick headed “Sex symbol twins spark big noise in their new message on HIV“.
“We can’t talk about condom use when we know people don’t use them anymore” – Dr. Sindi van Zyl
The HIV subject today still draws some discomfort when it’s brought up in conversation. The stigma linked to being infected with HIV remains rife, sadly. I say sadly because with the availability of ARVs here in South African, the HIV virus can be managed and those infected are able to live life as “normal” as those that are negative in status.
Thula Mhize was diagnosed with HIV at age 23, he has been living with the virus for 10 years now. Thula is married and together with his HIV negative wife, Lindo has two healthy and HIV negative kids, with a third child due in this July.
“Why would I want a cure when I can manage the virus and life a wonderful life?” – Thula Mhkize
According to the article, today the world has 78M people infected with HIV. In South Africa, of the people currently infected with the virus, 56% are on ARVs. There have been a number of studies that have proven that if you’re infected with HIV, are taking ARVs and your viral load is undetectable, the positive individual will not transmit the virus to the HIV negative person.
Like Thula and his twin brother Ntokozo, I also believe that our HIV/AIDS engagement with the public needs to evolve. Much of the communication we hear today is still about “condomizing”, nothing wrong, but surely with all the changes around being infected with HIV, and how to better manage it so as not to transmit the virus further, the communication around HIV should also evolve?
Dr. Sindi van Zyl in this Sunday Times article put it perfectly in my opinion. Communication today to the public should certainly continue around abstinence and the use of condoms correctly but it should also include information about the use of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and ARVs. Let’s get real, as much as there is loads of information about using condoms and getting tested, it isn’t happening as often as we tell ourselves. After all, teenage pregnancy is still prevalent in our societies despite all the sex education campaigns!
“…people fear rejection when coming out as HIV positive …” – Thula Mkhize
I tend to agree with Thula, as humans we fear rejection. When you’re first diagnosed with HIV, or as a teen woman you find out that you’re pregnant – I’m by no means putting the two on the same level, just trying to make a point – the initial thought I’m told, is the fear of rejection by those you love and then society at large. As an HIV negative person, individuals have a right to choose who they date. As a society globally, we’ve come a long way where HIV is concerned. For many, we no longer see HIV as a life sentence for the individuals infected. I’m aware of many couples like Thula and his wife, where one is HIV positive and the other is negative leading healthy relationships.
Ntokozo, the HIV negative twin brother to Thula says in the Sunday Times article “...it’s pointless having a closed group for people living with HIV, then letting them out into a community that doesn’t accept them…“. Ideally, as he mentioned further, for these support groups to be fruitful, they need to be made up of both HIV positive and negative individuals. Let’s be real for a second, there’s a small chance of it happening.! What we definitely do need is more open, direct and honest communication on how manageable living with HIV today is. There needs to be more communication about “UNDETECTABLE=UNTRANSMITTABLE” as long as the HIV positive individual is on ARVs and lives a balanced and healthy lifestyle through exercise and healthy nutritional choices.
Let’s continue with the messages about using condoms, determining our status, but let’s also have messages about being on ARVs if you’re HIV positive and being on PrEP if you’re HIV negative and sexually active or for example if you are in a relationship with an HIV positive person. Let’s talk more about how HIV is manageable today. Head over to Good Stories to read more about the work the twins are doing.
Safe sex is no longer, in my opinion, only about using a condom and learning your status but also about living with HIV in the broader society where individuals interact with HIV negative individuals that see a person beyond their managed HIV status. Thula is an example of how an HIV positive person is able to live with an HIV negative person and create a family with children that are HIV negative, a positive benefit of being on ARVs and his undetectable HIV viral load.
We need updated communication and role models regarding HIV and how it can be managed.
Consult your doctor for more information on ARVs and PrEP.
Article published in the Sunday Times by Alex Patrick read the article here.