December 1 is just a day past, and it is especially remembered because it is the day the World Health Organisation set aside to commemorate Aids. Thus it became known as the World Aids Day. This year many people must have woken up to go through the motions of recollecting that Aids is a killer.
UNAIDS statistical estimates put the figure of HIV infected people in the world at over 30 million. In many countries there were marches to mark the day, with participants clad in smart casual wear, red logos smartly pinned on left or right breast.
After speeches and the resultant carnival-like atmosphere that accompanies such ceremonies, many took off to bars, and some to lodges, to round off the day in style. Yes. Aids, the killer hydra, has also turned into something to celebrate.
Here in Rwanda, the National Aids Control Commission (CNLS) decided to commemorate not just the one day, but have made sensitisation programmes to run the whole year round, beginning in November this year and ending in October next year. The year’s theme revolves around encouraging people to go for HIV testing and counselling.
Countries seem to be doing everything right in combating HIV/Aids prevalence. From providing fast testing and counseling centres to vigorous campaigns to prevent infection to provision of ARV therapy, there is no doubt that we are all giving it our all. Mortality rates have reportedly fallen.
Yet the figures of infection keep rising. Sub-Saharan Africa , just a small part of the whole world, is responsible for 67.8% of the global HIV+ population, according to UNAIDS 2007 statistical figures, and infection figures keep rising. What can we do to reverse this trend?
There has been talk of compulsory HIV testing, but this not an issue where people should not be roped up in order to save them and others from disease.
Anyone who does not possess enough wisdom to know whether they are free of HIV or not, free of charge, does not merit the compulsion, because the resultant measures to save their lives, as in putting them on ARV therapy, demand even more discipline from them than ever before.
It is not possible to get much from this approach, but establishing contact with all people and applying highly persuasive means to get them to the testing centres will be more like it.
But CNLS needs to look closely into the issue of having all institutions – corporate and non-corporate – establish their own HIV/Aids programmes for their employees and their families.
Of course the number of employed is very small compared to the majority peasants, but the effect of this would be to free the much-needed resources both human and otherwise, to deal with the less privileged.
Plus, there is no surer way of getting near-accurate statistical figures than through company records of how many of their employees are HIV+ and how many are on Aids drugs. This kind of compulsion would go a long way towards fighting the scourge.
It’s also known that people who are more affluent have more advantages of surviving the epidemic, or have the knowledge and means of accessing life-prolonging Aids drugs. This is the same old story of the rich being better off in general terms than the poor, even in the issue of “buying” life. Now let’s turn to the people ourselves. From 2008 HIV-Aids Epidemic Update for Rwanda comes worrying figures.
“Through September 2007, out of the total need for ART (61,545) among adults (15+), more than 43,000 received treatment (70%); out of these 64% were women.” So what, says you?
The big, glaring question arising from this is, where are the men? The men, the main purveyors of sexual activities from which most HIV infections occur, are the most elusive partners in the fight against Aids.
They are the rapists; they are the ones who are readier to indulge in unprotected sex; they are the abusers of women, with many men having more sexual partners. Yet, yet, they are the least willing to participate in activities that can lessen infection chances and cut down the threat of Aids.
They are loath to do the very things that would help them and their partners, potential and actual, to get protection. I believe that when, not if, special programmes are written for men’s participation in the Aids fight, there will be a more positive change.
Target men for special testing and counseling sessions. Drum up men to volunteer for HIV/Aids-related tasks like community assistance that needs manual labour to execute.
Since CNLS is encouraging couples to go for voluntary testing, men should be given special recognition and roles to try to get them out of their ignorant and macho cocoons to help break the duck of HIV/ Aids.