Leaving no one behind: Solutions to vulnerability, inaccessability and condom usage

The Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS) has made significant strides in reaching young people at universities and colleges in South Africa. A recent gathering was an historic moment in South African history. More than 2 000 young people gathered to discuss the dire HIV/AIDS situation in our country, and what’s more, they took centre stage while senior officials and experts listened. I had the opportunity to raise a few key issues at the gathering as an invited speaker.

The address of the opening panelist, Professor’s Ahmed Bawa, who is the chief executive officer of Universities South Africa, was so fitting for the current state of affairs regarding HIV/AIDS and leadership. What I extracted as a central point from government’s recently launched fourth National Strategic Plan for HIV, Tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) 2017-2222 was this: when we look at the present leadership in South Africa, do we see HIV/AIDS making headlines? No! We see corruption, we see poor leadership, but we no longer see HIV/AIDS!

We have the opportunity to raise this issue with our deputy president, David Mabuza, as he attended the conference.

We have seen a generation of leaders such as Nelson Mandela pass on, we have held the 46664 concerts to raise awareness. Where do we see political leadership of that stature now, other than perhaps the Desmond Tutu Foundation? We need more of this quality of leadership in our political sphere, not corruption and not poor leadership!

Many in this audience have visited campus health facilities at university or college. When you look at me, you may think that I would have visited such facilities, especially being in the medical profession. But, to be honest, I have not.

Allow me to draw on personal experience. I am from a very poor background. When I got to Wits University, I found society has this stigma. If someone is standing at a National Student Financial Aid office (where you may get loans for disadvantaged students), people know that person is poor, that student cannot afford fees. That was one of my first embarrassments. It took me many years to realise it is not an embarrassment.

The second embarrassment I had was about my hands. They may look perfect, but that’s the thing about disability. Some disabilities are invisible.

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with what is known as arthralgia, more commonly known as arthritis. The stigma I experienced at university was immense. There were times when I would go to my office to cry after certain encounters with staff and students.

These sorts of experiences which had me thinking, would I ever, if I needed HIV information, go to the campus health facility, where nurses are rude and unhelpful? Would I go to be further stigmatised? And the answer is: I never went.

Now, though, I have reached a different stage in my life where I no longer care about stigma. I have learnt that you’re not disabled but differently abled.

I never expected to be differently abled myself, but I have always advocated for the right of persons with disabilities.

It is easy for us to pay lip service, to commit in our policies, “Let us include gays and lesbians; let us include persons with disabilities.” But do we actually implement anything for persons with disabilities?

When we speak about contraception, such as condoms, there are barriers to access at a university. Let’s not even go into the additional access barriers for person with disabilities. Do you see accessible bathrooms with condoms? No. But you see them in the standard bathrooms.

Consider this experiment in which a volunteer, Gugulethu, is blindfolded with a scarf. We as young people have been asked to provide solutions to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Let us examine what we mean by solutions, accessibility and truly leaving no one behind – specifically for those who are visually impaired. Allow us to demonstrate the vulnerability and inaccessibility those with visual impairments may feel when accessing contraception. We will move on to solutions for differently abled condom usage.

Shakira: Gugulethu, I have two condoms, I am placing one in your right hand and one in your left hand. Can you tell the audience which is a male and which is a female condom?

Guglethu: The right hand is a female condom and the left is a male condom.

Shakira: Excellent! What a stroke of luck, the condom packaging has pictures and instructions for usage, can you see the instructions?

Gugulethu: No.

Shakira: There is a hotline number enlisted on the condom, can you see this?

Gugulethu: No.

Shakira: Finally, can you open one of the condoms for us?

Gugulethu: [Struggles and tears the condom in the process.]

This anecdote precisely demonstrates how our interventions are often not tailored to vulnerable populations. Consider the risk even when a visually impaired person is attempting to use contraception for prevention. Consider the possibility of a condom tearing.

While a differently abled individual will eventually figure out safe contraceptive usage, there is a period of vulnerability where one is susceptible and at risk of possibly contracting HIV. As a young person, the one solution I bring to the table at this conference is to ensure accessibility of these condoms and I challenge industry to innovate in this regard.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Mabuza asked to account for why ministers were seated next to Malema in Senekal

MPs can’t seem to stop the house from degenerating into screaming matches, even during virtual sittings, as exhibited when the deputy president answered questions in the NCOP on Wednesday.

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Ramaphosa reiterates support for emerging farmers

On the back of the announcement that the government would allocate more land to be leased by emerging farmers, President Cyril Ramaphosa says that beneficiaries will also be trained in financial management and enterprise development

A healthy Mabuza appears in Parliament

After a lengthy absence from public life, Deputy President David Mabuza returns to Parliament, providing assurances that rolling blackouts are temporary

Human contact floats the boats

Discovering the life-sustaining importance of contact with actual people: colleagues, customers, and deputy presidents

Richard Calland: Cyril and Ace can’t both survive

One of them will have to fall if the ANC is to win back the confidence of the electorate — so it can’t be Ramaphosa

Subscribers only

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

More top stories

ATM withdrawal halts no-confidence vote against the president

The party wants the court to rule on the secret ballot issue first, with the case set to be heard in early February

Ruling deals crushing blow to zero-hours contracts

Ferrero factory workers have won the first battle in what might become one of South Africa’s next wars on casual and precarious work

Eusebius McKaiser: Mpofu, Gordhan caught in the crosshairs

The lawyer failed to make his Indian racist argument and the politician refused to admit he had no direct evidence

Corruption forces health shake-up in Gauteng

Dr Thembi Mokgethi appointed as new health MEC as premier seeks to stop Covid-19 malfeasance

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…