World AIDS Day 2022: Keep talking
A wise man once said, “All truths that are kept silent become poisonous.” Never has this been truer than on the subject of HIV/Aids. Today we have excellent treatment options allowing people diagnosed with HIV to live long, happy, healthy lives, and yet the fear lingers on and people stay silent.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly a million people still die every year from the virus because they don’t know they have HIV and are not on treatment, or they start treatment late. Why don’t people seek help? Aside from an understandable fear of illness, people are afraid of stigma and discrimination. Prejudice could be as devastating as the illness itself, whether it’s rejection by a partner or family, being excluded from social circles, lack of support and care, or even open hostility.
But it is in speaking out, in telling our stories and sharing information, that we can tackle things head on. And it starts with creating a culture of compassion and understanding. Let’s lay the foundation for supportive conversations on December 1, which is World Aids Day.
- Educate yourself
We have a wealth of scientific information at our fingertips today and it’s easy to learn the basics. This can help each one of us feel more comfortable if someone shares their status. If you understand the virus and the treatment options, you’ll also know that you can’t get Aids just from being around someone with HIV.
- Be open
You can create a safe space for talking about HIV/Aids in the way you respond when a friend, family member, or colleague shares their diagnosis.
- Thank. You’ve been entrusted with deeply personal information, and this should be acknowledged.
- Reassure. They need to know you feel the same about them, you’re there for them, and you will keep this private.
- Ask. Express interest in how they’re doing and how you can help.
- Listen. Without judgement or preconceptions, try to truly hear what they’re communicating.
- Encourage. Depending on the situation, you may need to encourage them to seek further help, or they may need emotional support to keep going.
- Follow their lead. Take your cues from them. For example, if they want to chat, make time to do so; if they clearly don’t want to talk, don’t force it.
- What not to say? Never ask how they got HIV or tell them horror stories about other people with the disease.
- Get help
Just like any chronic illness, people living with HIV need the right treatment and you can encourage and support them in accessing this help. But if someone in your life has been diagnosed, it’s important that you get support too. You may feel distressed, sad, angry or even depressed about the news. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone else for help, be it a counsellor or doctor who is well-versed in HIV. If you’ve been in an intimate relationship, you may also need to get tested or go on PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
If we all work together to understand the situation and to be open and compassionate, we can turn the tide on the virus.
As renowned scientist Dr Stephen Hawking said, “Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this… All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”
- National AIDS helpline: 0800 012 322
- Lifeline: http://lifelinesa.co.za/ 0861 322 322 (free counselling service)
- AIDS Foundation South Africa: https://www.aids.org.za/
- She Conquers: http://sheconquerssa.co.za/hiv/ (women-focused)
- LoveLife: https://lovelife.org.za/en/ (youth-focused)
- OUT LGBT Wellbeing: https://out.org.za/ (LGBTQI-focused)