Aids is not just a tragic story

By sun-up, Valencia Mofokeng has her modest home in the ramshackle black township, Orange Farm, near Johannesburg humming like a well-oiled machine.

Her six small children have bathed in a plastic washbasin, the dirt yard is swept, the bed is made and Mofokeng is dishing out a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese slices before she prepares for work.

“It’s busy,” she laughs. “It is true you can live with Aids. Better than only telling people, I show through example.”

Her husband, Amos, chimes in: “This is not her last day.
People have to stop people seeing those with Aids that way.”

Mofokeng is clearly not the haunting image of human suffering that has long characterised the Aids epidemic in South Africa, where one in nine people is HIV-infected and activists warn the situation will worsen before it improves.

The government on Friday revealed some details of a five-year plan to tackle the disease—release of the full-blown strategy has been delayed until March—after years of criticism from civil society for doing little.

But behind the grim statistics in one of the world’s worst-hit countries are people who are doing their best to cope.

Mofokeng shows that in South Africa, as in many Western countries, HIV infection is not a death sentence but a chronic condition patients can control through a positive outlook, nutritious diet, physical exercise and treatment.

If her body’s defences are weakened she will resort to a lifetime programme of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, much like diabetics who inject insulin to control blood sugar, she said. Both diseases persist worldwide in the absence of a vaccine or cure.

“Only when ... we begin to relate to Aids as a chronic illness will people freely say, ‘Honey, we need to use a condom.’ And it will be no big deal,” says Betsi Pendry, who leads a project chronicling Aids-affected South African families.

“But the first question people ask is how you got it. There is this idea that you brought it on yourself.”

Stigma of Aids

Social stigma dogs Aids patients and the prevention message is cluttered by an information overload, says Pendry. Poverty also plays a crucial role in the spread of Aids, which kills nearly 1 000 patients in South Africa every day.

More often than not, negative news outweighs the positive.

South Africa’s HIV infection rate is expected to rise higher than its current level of more than five million in a population of 45-million—one of the highest caseloads in the world—and claim ever more lives, according to UNAIDS.

In South Africa, more than 200 000 are receiving life-prolonging ARV treatment, offering only a kernel of hope because many times more people are sick enough to need them.

“The mundane truth is that Aids is now more readily manageable medically than many other chronic conditions. I take two tablets twice a day,” says Judge Edwin Cameron, an openly HIV-positive member of South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal.

“That is the tragedy—the gap between the medicine available and what is accessible to people,” he said.—Reuters

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