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        Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?
        Friday, March 31, 2006
        Wasting breath on AIDS
        I love Bill Clinton. I miss listening to his eloquent speeches. I am glad he is involved in HIV/AIDS projects in poor nations. But, mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS? I’….m not too sure about that.

        Clinton is reviving an idea which was dumped two decades ago – mandatory HIV/AIDS testing. The idea was never pursued because there were concerns of stigmatizing people. It is a fact that due to the widespread of the epidemic and because millions of people died from it, there is much more awareness about the disease worldwide than two decades ago. But, I do not think that the stigma attached to the disease is gone.

        “I see stigma everywhere”

        Clinton’s idea is to start mandatory screening “in countries where there was no discrimination against people with the illness…” Let me know when you find such a country. You see, it is not the country that discriminates against HIV/AIDS victims. It is the ultra traditional uncle, the fanatic religious God mother, the unsympathetic neighbor, the mean colleague at work, the pastor at church… who discriminate. Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS is directly linked with sex – a taboo topic in countries like Ethiopia and, in a different way, in the US. Therefore, talking AIDS is talking taboo. So, where is the wisdom in exposing people by forcing them to screen for AIDS before the fundamental problems are solved? Shouldn’t we have an article in countries’ Anti-discrimination law which will protect HIV/AIDS victims?

        Take for example the US policy about distributing condoms both domestically and externally. The administration is saying “abstain all ye immoral creatures!” That is the basis of sex education in the US as well. Don’t you dare say the ‘c’ word in front of kids – oh no, you’ll go straight to hell via some detention center here on earth probably. So, if this is the mentality in the most developed and well informed nation, imagine the stigma which still exists in poor nations. My mom, an educated woman, still talks about AIDS as ‘that bad disease’.

        May be Clinton has worked this out to the tiniest detail and I’m concerned for nothing. Details including,

        - Legal protection against discrimination
        - Protecting the right for privacy
        - Regulations on patient confidentiality
        - Safety net to people in case of loss of jobs
        - I can’t think of something else.
        - Follow up help if taste proves positive.

        Undoubtedly, there is a need to reach those who are already infected and they don’t even know it. Still, I don’t think it is as simple as just finding these people, make them pop tablets and set them off back in society to carry on as if nothing happened. Does the Clinton program, for example, provide counseling for those who need it after they are told the devastating news that they are infected with the virus. Is there help for them if they lose their jobs?

        Stigma is unavoidable because HIV/AIDS has become associated with class, race and sexual orientation. In the US, for example, black women are reported to be unaware of HIV risk. Yes, I said in the US! In states like Alabama, non-white women make up 13% of the population – but make up nearly 70% of HIV infections. For black women aged 24-35, AIDS is the number one cause of death. Now, we would like to think that the US is one of the countries that doesn’t discriminate against HIV/AIDS victims. The legislation in Alabama regarding HIV/AIDS is called, surprise surprise, the Abstinence Bill. The founder of the Black AIDS Institute, Phill Wilson, says and I have every reason to believe him about stigma rather than Clinton

        “Unfortunately, because of stigma.. a lot of African-American women don’t realize they’re at risk, don’t believe that they’re at risk, or don’t want to be at risk,”

        I see brave men in Africa
        Here is a story of brave, brave enlightened South African Catholic men, who are not afraid of bending the Vatican rules to work with the reality of life. One of them is Luyanda Ngonyama. Three years of religious training and work experience with diocese and conference of bishops under his belt, he is openly advocating for condom distribution in S. Africa. His argument is that "Once you see one or two stories, these people who would have been saved had they used a condom, then you have a conflict. The reality is, people enjoy sex, even outside marriage."

        My favorite quote is “The bottom line is to be pro-life, consistently pro-life, from conception until death," said Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa, perhaps the best-known Catholic advocate for condom use in South Africa. "We can't save all lives, but we can save some lives through the use of condoms."
        If you think about it, this addresses several issues – sex education, capital punishment, human rights, corruption (the type that costs people their lives) and such.

        I hope not to see dollar signs everywhere
        Somebody please tell me that there is NO pharmaceutical company behind this. Please!

        Good luck to Lesotho, the first country to start this adventurous experiment!

        Further readings

        US Aids policy: reatment rather than prevention

        Abstinence-only sex education: the challenges

        Abstinence-only sex eduation: the background and costs

        Sex education in the US: Info. by state

        A Christian view of matters
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:29 AM   Digg!
        • name<="c114435209721150362" id="c114435209721150362">

          At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


          This is an awesome post! I came here via Pinko Feminist Hellcat. I couldn't agree with you more about stigma. I have been really engaged in HIV/AIDS work in the United States & lately have been learning more and more about the global epidemic. I was shocked to learn something you may already know--during the Rwandan conflict, women were intentionally raped by men who were HIV+. In Rwanda, the stigma of HIV was so great that it became an instrument of war.

          So, I agree that the stigma is still huge! I also can't agree more about the continuing stigmas in the United States.

          Mandatory testing is a controversial idea--and it furthers the idea of medicine as a handmaiden to the state and to big business. That doesn't always lead to the best health care...

          Thanks for your thoughtful post!

          Lingual X

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