The mention of HIV or AIDS is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most courageous. How many like the biblical character Esther, can boldly say “if I die, I die” when diagnosed with the disease? Hitherto, images shown on our screens, magazines, newspapers and other media platforms were incredibly scary to say the least. We saw human beings reduced to skeletal beings that could be referred to as living dead. No one wants to experience the humiliation, ridicule and horrible symptoms associated with the menace. If those images were to put the fear of God in people to help in sexual abstinence and prevention of extra marital affairs, they sure did. But to what extent? Positively putting fear in people, it negatively elevated stigmatization in our society. Others also damned the consequences referring to HIV/AIDS as a myth.
Fear appeals alone seem ineffective since Ghana still records HIV infections. What is the use of showing a child the picture of a severely burnt animal to prevent her from going near fire? Will a better alternative not be to sit her down and explain the dangers of fire? The education campaigns on abstinence, faithfulness and condom use is an improved version of the scare tactics. Headway has been made in curbing the menace by hyping prevention. Yes, Prevention! It is said to be better than cure and rightly so. But when the preventives fail, what next? If a teenage girl disappoints her parents by getting pregnant despite education, good upbringing and counsel, no good parents will throw her to the dogs. They will nurture their child who is about to bring forth another child protecting her from further misfortunes. In the same vein, if someone contracts the HIV virus despite all the prevention campaigns and sometimes mere illiteracy, the option becomes the opposite of prevention. Cure! Unfortunately this is the missing ingredient in the HIV/AIDS formula.
There is currently no cure for HIV/ AIDs. The words “no cure” seems to be a dead end capable of sending the bravest to hang. Those words alone may not be potent for suicide but if you add discrimination and stigmatization, suicide sounds more appealing. Fortunately, in recent times it looks like the fight against HIV/AIDS discrimination is hitting home. Faceless victims have self –unveiled, removing their cover. They are determined to survive despite obvious challenges and societal imposed limitations. After all, if society has condemned them to die, what else do they have to fear? Dead men have no fear. It is inspiring to see persons living with HIV/AIDs boldly coming out to fight for their rights. Who better to fight for them? They rightfully seek answers to questions like, how can I pay for my drugs if you deprive me of my job simply because I am HIV positive? If you take away the roof over my head how do I survive out there? If I cannot use your washroom, how do I ease myself? If even the church can throw me out, who will accept me?
Many more heart wrenching questions plaque the minds of persons living with HIV who are discriminated against. Then comes the solution almost comparable to the cure. Anti-retroviral drugs to the aid! Today persons living with HIV are not condemned to death but have the hope of subsidized Anti-retroviral drugs that can sustain them until God’s appointed time for their demise. And if I say God’s appointed time, I mean His appointed time for both HIV Positive and Negative persons. These drugs and other healthy habits have saved most people who hitherto were at the mercy of lies and deceit. Dangerous herbs, sleeping with virgins in the hope of a miraculous cure, subjection to humiliating spiritual procedures and so on have been defeated at the hope of these anti-retroviral drugs. I will refer to these drugs as the subtle cure because they may not totally rid one of his or her HIV positive status but can help in its management. The fear of a life ending abruptly is now a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, the cure or management campaign has not been highlighted as much as it should. We mostly hear about testing to know one’s status on various media platforms. What next after testing? Counseling of course! However, letting people out there know about the existence of these anti- retroviral drugs will go a long way to boost the courage of people who discover they have been infected. This is not to suggest that one should get infected in order to become dependent on these drugs. That will be utterly ridiculous! Nevertheless, the more people know about the existence of these anti-retroviral drugs, the better. It is better to know there is life after the so-called death sentence of HIV/AIDs.
If people get to know alternatives available to them, testing ceases to be a difficult choice. A pregnant woman who is enlightened about protecting her child from the disease will not run from testing. A couple already infected will not continue re-infecting each other. They will not walk around their homes as living dead not knowing where to turn. The possibility of having a child who is HIV negative despite their positive status is enough to replace the smell of death with the smell of life. Stigmatization will reduce because a person with hope cannot easily be put down.
That is why Ghana AIDS Commission and its stakeholders should be applauded for organizing the first ever National HIV and AIDs fair in February 2012. The four day event can arguably be referred to as “unprecedented” and is unlikely to generate any political debate. For the first time, a fair in Ghana was devoid of food, clothing, accessories and other related activities. The stands could rather boast of more than fifty exhibitors displaying HIV/AIDS projects, products and services. The usual despair associated with the pandemic was missing as posters spoke of hope and life after HIV rather than the condemnation of death and despondency. Free educational brochures as well as magazines and other materials on the pandemic were distributed. Male and female condoms were also available at no cost with personnel present to demonstrate proper use.
Congratulations to the organizers and initiative bearers of the fair; a job well done. Nevertheless, the event was not advertised as much as it should to generate the desired effect. Since it was a National fair, more people could have been invited to participate from all parts of the country. But since it is the first time such an event has been held in Ghana, I believe the next event will get better and more innovative. The bottom line is Information on Alternatives and Hope. That is what the good Lord has granted us for now, until HE reveals the cure through whatever means HE chooses. Even then, I concur “Prevention is always better than Cure”.