There are 3.9 million people living with HIV globally and over 5 million South Africans are HIV positive. Regrettably, only 15,000 of the 5 million are on ARV's on the government schemes. The average cost of ARVs is R560 per month for the masses that are infected. Many of these faces (who have become names to me) do not have or cannot afford to part with R560. SA is on the death grip of HIV/AIDS and a generation of African children’s lives (especially girls) is on the line.
Over the past 5 years i have had to face the scourge of this disease and I have had to look both the disease and death in the eyes. I have been pushed from my neatly, perfectly comfortable, privileged and perfectly boxed life and have been exposed to the coldness that surrounds this disease and sadly it is a grim reality. Over the past 5 years, a great deal of my fight with HIV/AIDS has been rooted in Chesterville, a community where my heart is at, the birth place of my father. Like many other townships, Chesterville is largely modernized, with running water, electricity, and every second house has a DSTV subscription! Safe to say, it is not on its knees and yet, statistics released from the Dept. of Health indicate that over half of the population in Chesterville is HIV positive.
Many children lose their parents and become AIDS orphans in this area. What are we doing as society to reintegrate these children back into society?
As I came to realize, society has become cold, distant, afraid, self-serving, self-seeking, selfish and greedy and just in case you were wondering, that is YOU and I. We have failed to look beyond our own needs and our own lives and have allowed inhumaneness and a lack of Ubuntu to cloud our judgments, our reasoning, our feelings. We have allowed apathy to shroud our hearts, our very selves.
Besides AIDS orphans, every minute a child is infected with HIV and every other minute a child dies from an AIDS-related illness. Not only are these children victims of irresponsible parents, coupled with that, they have become victims of a cold society. I have witnessed and can attest to the coldness of the human spirit especially to those that cannot help or defend themselves.
Has the global response been inadequate regarding children orphaned and living with HIV? ABSOLUTELY. Although the United Nations launched a campaign called "unite for children, unite against AIDS", can we really expect that to bring about change? on its own, probably not. For the longest time ARVs have been focused on adults and I fervently believe that irrespective of how sick they are, children should be given the opportunity to live, to experience life, to take a shot at it, why? Because it’s their birth right, because they are the potential leaders of tomorrow's Africa. To ignore this means to perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty, orphanhood and death.
5 years ago today, a friend of mine passed and left behind 3 children, aged then 8, 5 and 1. I have taken the 1 year old (who is now 6) under my wing as an adoptive daughter and what great joy that has been. It has definitely not served her but served me. It is forever true that as you build the house, the house builds you! She is such a fighter, she has silently taught me about a kind of courage I will not have to know. She literally grabbed life from the jaws of death. It’s been one hell of a journey, drenched in sunlight and sometimes shrouded by fog, but I’m ECSTATIC to say she is as of 3 weeks ago, now TB free and so we're only just focusing on ARVs now (5 years and still counting). She has responded with great vigour and vitality to them with resounding success. She is for all purposes my little girl. It’s hard to say she is "lucky" but perhaps we can say she is one of the fortunate ones who might just survive this pandemic.
What have I learnt over the past 5 years?
1. We're definitely NOT getting the message across. Because we're preaching the wrong message. We have removed ourselves from God's ways and his will that instead of teaching the youth about sex as a sacred union between man and wife we focus solely on safe sex. Until humanity returns to God's ways, NOTHING and no effort to solve ANY of the world’s problems will be effective.
2. the highest risk of AIDS in SA is in women and children ( I’ve seen this in Chesterville). Women are not only more biologically prone to it but I have encountered on my trips to Masibambisane ARV clinic, that a great number of the women are married women, who were formally abstinent, currently faithful and presently positive. A condom is all that stands between her, her child and the disease and yet culturally, men think they have the right to cheat, this is pure patriarchy at its best.
3. Women are generally disempowered because of gender inequalities, they don’t have positive alternatives to negotiating safe sex, because at the end of the day, they have to choose between unprotected sex and seeing their children go to bed hungry or unprotected sex and being beaten for raising the issue. How can 2 hyenas and one springbok vote for what is on the dinner menu and still call it equality?
Our society has lost its humanness and has allowed corruption, discord and greed to take root at the Centre of our hearts. Why else do corrupt pharmaceutical companies refuse to allow cheaper generic drugs to be manufactured? Massive pharmaceutical companies have been enriched at the expense of human life. Surely where there's a choice between enriching a company and saving lives, even if it’s just one life, it’s clear where the priority lies (or is it?). Sadly, our government and big companies are clouded and interested in only the bottom line.
Is this who we are as a people? Maybe what we should be looking for is not a cure for AIDS but a cure against corruption in the fight to find a cure against AIDS. All I am saying is that we all need to do our bit for mortal man instead of doing nothing. Find a way to give back in the fight against AIDS. As a society we must together concentrate our efforts in a new role not only for SA but for Africa as a whole. Although adequate aid has not been handed down in Africa, we must challenge our government to use money obtained from world charities better. We must challenge government to change the trade rules that favour the rich, we must challenge government to give priority to addressing the root causes of AIDS and improve basic conditions of sanitation and better education systems must be put in place as these go a long way to addressing the root causes.
I have learnt that a little bit of love and tenderness goes a mighty long way in this fight. It’s not my fight; it’s not snegugu's fight, it’s OUR COLLECTIVE fight. I've also learnt there's no end to the amount of pain caused by this disease. I’ve also learnt that HIV/AIDS comes knocking on doors of all of mankind and everybody. It’s not the government that needs to make the changes, it must begin with us.
For the longest time, everyone was just a statistic to me until a little angel came crawling into my heart and showed me she was more than just a statistic. Ask yourself, what you call yourself; what makes you human, what you are doing to contribute. As women, there are generations of generations in our wombs, the decisions you make today, reverberate to all eternity.