April 23, 2006
Because Everyone Knows Someone
Last Thursday a top AIDS activist group pulled out of South Africa’s delegation to a U.N. forum on HIV/AIDS, saying it could not “lend respectability” to the government’s approach to the pandemic.
South Africa’s approach to AIDS has always received criticism from the international community. This is nothing new–what is upsetting is that they undermine and refuse to support the work of local agencies.
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) which often clashes with President Thabo Mbeki’s government on AIDS policy, said after they were left out of the upcoming UN meeting:
“officials had excluded critics and handpicked supporters to show a united front at the coming U.N. General Assembly Special Session on AIDS.”
The activists claim 900 South Africans die of AIDS-related diseases every day and estimates that 5.6 million of the country’s 45 million people are infected with HIV. TAC’s campaign for anti-retroviral drugs is credited with pushing the South African government to announce a public treatment program in 2003. Despite this, TAC claims access to the drugs has been slow because of a “lack of political will by Health Minister Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang.”
What can be done to raise HIV/AIDS awareness in a country when the government is covering their eyes, ears and mouths like the “See No Evil” monkeys? Turn to the local media to mobilize people?
I was happy to read in today’s South Africa’s Sunday Times, the paper has launched its Everyone Knows Someone campaign. This initiative is to help fight the stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS. In support of the campaign, prominent South Africans citizens were tested for HIV in order to others to get tested and know their HIV status. The Johannesburg Times invited Cabinet members of to take the test, but none of them have yet been able to find the time to do so.
“Some of our elected leaders run for cover whenever HIV/Aids is mentioned, displaying the shame and embarrassment that this campaign is designed to combat. If it were up to them, HIV/Aids would be a virus surrounded by silence.”
Here are some examples what government officals think about the AIDS crisis in South Africa:
- President Thabo Mbeki has been criticized for expressing his doubts about the link between the HIV and AIDS and the extent to which the disease has spread in South Africa.
- Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang often promotes the benefits of garlic, lemons and African potatoes, while referring to possible toxicities of AIDS medicines.
- Former head of the National AIDS Council Jacob Zuma, is on trial for allegedly raping an HIV-positive AIDS activist. Under cross-examination, Zuma told the court that he took a shower following sex, because he believes that can minimize the chances of HIV infection.
The Everyone Knows Someone campaign hopes to make it easier for HIV-positive people to be open about their status with family and new partners and secure in the knowledge that support is available. I think this is a great start as local NGOs continue to do work and receive support from international health organizations. This will have to do for now because South Africans can’t count on support from their elected leaders when it comes to AIDS.