Hi readers. On 1st December, the world marked world AIDS day. Therefore, this post is about HIV.
I am writing this post with the assumption that we all know certain things;
1. HIV is transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected person, through blood transfusion with infected blood, and through an infected mother to her child during childbirth, among other routes of transmission.
2. HIV is not transmitted through mosquito bites, sharing of spoons, toilets, etc.
3. Mother to child transmission of HIV during childbirth and breastfeeding can be prevented. It’s really not that difficult.
4. HIV treatment is freely available.
5. HIV is not a death sentence.
6. No one should stigmatise or discriminate against anyone because of their HIV status (or for any other reason). Stigma is bad. Period.
(NB: On second thought, I know a lot of people do not know not to stigmatize and discriminate. That will be a topic for another day.)
Now that I have written some of the things we all should know, I have to ask, do we know some of the driving forces of the HIV epidemic? Do we know that;
1. HIV was initially thought of as something that affected only homosexuals. It was until years later, it was discovered that it affected heterosexuals too. By that time, it was already a widespread epidemic.
2. Later, HIV was seen as a disease that affected only sex workers, and not married people. For that reason, it became so stigmatized, that people didn’t want to be associated with the disease. But then, men visit these sex workers, so…
3. HIV was seen as something that had no cure; hence, people didn’t see the need to get tested. Many people thought “What is the point of being told I have a disease that has no cure? I’ll rather just live my life and not know, than know and get ostracized.” And so, it kept on spreading.
4. Gender stereotypes and norms are an important driving force for the HIV epidemic. How? Let me tell you.
In our society, generally, a girl is told to be pure and chaste, and to guard her virginity, but a boy usually receives no such moral lecture. From the stage of puberty, he is generally allowed to do what he wants, to go out and come in whenever he wants to, to have fun. Because, you know, he is a boy. This trend is carried on into adulthood, and marriage. Accordingly, unfaithfulness from the husband is expected and tolerated, and the same cannot be said for the wife. So, in so many instances, a woman knows of her husband’s infidelity. She knows that she can be infected with HIV from her husband, but she can do nothing about it. She cannot ask her husband to use a condom, neither can she refuse to have sex with him, because society has dictated that she has no right to do so. This leaves her unable to protect herself from being infected. She is left powerless to carry out decisions that affect her own reproductive health, and her life.
Since a woman is more likely to have contact with a health care center than a man, she is more likely to get tested before her husband. However, if she is HIV positive, another important challenge arises; the challenge of telling her husband. You see, so many women have been beaten up or killed after disclosing their HIV status to their male partners or husbands. Others have been called prostitutes, thrown out of their homes, and separated from their children. For many of these women, they know they have never been unfaithful. They are almost sure that the source of their HIV infection was their partner. Because of this fear, many women have kept their status a secret, refused to take or adhere to their treatment for fear their husbands would find out, and allowed their conditions to only get worse.
For some men, however, who refuse to disclose their status to their partners, they do so, not because of fear, but for pride? (I really don’t know, and I would love to find out) There have been so many situations where the doctor urges a man to tell his wife his status, so she can get tested and if applicable, get treatment too. The man promises to do so, but doesn’t. He gets his treatment, but his wife doesn’t. And then you hear of how his wife died for unknown reasons (Possibly AIDS), and you say to yourself, “How? How didn’t she come in contact with the health care center? How didn’t she ever get tested? What happened? Did he stop her from getting tested? Did he stop her from going to the hospital? Was she so financially dependent on him, that she couldn’t seek treatment on her own?” These assumptions are not farfetched, because it happens. Many men have refused to allow their wives come in contact with a health center, when they know they have HIV, just so that their wives will not find out. And because society says men have that right, a woman is denied treatment needed for her own health, for her life. It’s ridiculous, annoying and extremely unfair.
HIV epidemic has resulted in so many cases of gender based violence, and has further shown how deep rooted gender based stereotypes, norms and gender inequality in oir society continue to negatively affect us all.
This is one of the many reasons I am so happy about the new HIV self test that is being implemented in other countries. It should be implemented in this country soon. Hopefully. We will all be to test ourselves in our own homes, at our convenience.
In the meantime, people, please go get yourselves tested, so that, if HIV positive, you can get start getting treatment. Do not wait for your partner to tell you to. You are your own person. You do not need anybody’s permission to be healthy. It’s your body, your health, your life, and your right. You deserve to be healthy. We all do.