The first time AIDS crossed my radar was in 1985, when I read this edition of Time magazine. People were dying of a virus and nobody knew why. It was terrifying; a plague. I had my first HIV test at university and then later in the UK when I was pregnant with my first child. I was, mercifully, HIV-free but for millions of people the experience of being tested has a different outcome.
Getting up the courage to have the test is one thing (brilliantly documented in Jonny Steinberg’s book Sizwe’s Test), but living with HIV – even in this world of anti-retrovirals – takes another kind of courage.
In his memoir Aidsafari, South African journalist Adam Levin talks about how, when he tested positive in 2003, he experienced life-threatening opportunistic infections and debilitating side-effects from the medication, was bedridden for months, tortured by nerve pains in his feet, lost his hair and teeth, required dentures at 35, had TB and cancer. It is a deeply moving book.
Imagine suffering as he did, but in poverty – in a home without electricity or running water and without access to medical care.
Despite having the world’s biggest HIV treatment programme in the world – 2.4 million people on drugs – South Africa is only treating a third of them. Four million people still don’t have access to treatment. At least one in five treatment facilities or clinics have run out of HIV or TB drugs.
AIDS has not gone away. We might be getting closer to a vaccine, but that is cold comfort to people already infected with the virus, who through poverty can’t access treatment or whose local clinic has run out of drugs.
The theme of World AIDS Day 2013 is Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation. The virus began one person at a time, and we can end it one person at time. Let’s think about ways we can each take steps to stop HIV – we can find a local AIDS organisation and donate, we can talk about AIDS to our children, we can read up about HIV to beat the myth that it has been dealt with. I did a quiz and discovered that despite all my research into HIV/AIDS, I still know very little. Self-education helps!
In the name of learning more, I have collected some blog posts and news articles more eloquent than mine on the topic of HIV/AIDS:
Still here and still fighting – AmeriNZ blog for World AIDS Day
If you have written a blog post to mark World AIDS Day 2013 or stumbled across a post you like, let me know and I will link to it from here.