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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

World AIDS Day

Happy World AIDS Day!

I remember living in America, being blissfully ignorant about the vital importance of this day and continued work in HIV care and treatment. My how things change!

Now, I live in Lesotho, surrounded by the second highest HIV rate in the world. When people die from illness, it is almost always HIV-related. When people die from illness, HIV is almost never mentioned.

Just as it does in America, HIV in Lesotho continues to carry an incredible stigma and huge amounts of discrimination. It seems that in America, because it can be transmitted through sexual activity and intravenous drug use, it is seen as scary and the repercussions of someone’s sins. The reality is, however, that here in Lesotho, the people most likely to contract HIV are young women ages 15-24. Many contract HIV through unprotected sex with their husband or an older partner. Many do not feel empowered to say no to sex or to insist upon condom usage in their relationship. Many have had only one partner.

Dribbling around risks
in life is an important
It is time for us as a world to look past the fallacy that someone did something wrong to contract HIV and to instead move toward helping to limit the scope of this disease.

Thanks to Anti-retroviral therapies, a person with HIV can live a long and productive life through maintenance medication, just as a person with diabetes, high blood pressure, and any number of other chronic conditions can. Additionally, an HIV positive person who religiously takes their medications can decrease their viral load so profoundly that the risk of them passing it to a sexual partner or to a child through birth or breast milk is incredibly reduced. There is simply no reason to stigmatize this disease!

A participant does push ups after hitting the "cone" for
risk of multiple partners during Risk Field.
For World AIDS Day here in Lesotho, my awesome counterparts and I added to the PC Skillz Grassroot Soccer Intervention we were already doing. Our practices today playing a game called Risk Field which uses risks like older partners, multiple partners, not using condoms, and combing alcohol and sex to show how HIV impacts not only the infected person but their family and friends and their entire community. We also played a game called Fact or Nonsense, which let us decide whether statements were true or not before learning more about the real facts. 

We finished up the day with empowerment. Since the theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "The Time to Act is Now," everyone came up with something they can do to help stop the impact of HIV/AIDS. Here is what they shared: 

Fact: Abstinence is the most effective way to avoid HIV.

Fact: The older your sexual partner, the more likely you are to get HIV.

"I will advise them [infected persons] to go to the health center for ARVs"

"I will tell them to abstain from sex..."

"I will form a social group"

"I will advise people to use condoms when having sex."

"I will tell them to go to the hospital.
I will tell them to have one boyfriend or girlfriend."

"I will tell them to have protected sex."

"I will abstain."

I will use condoms every time I have sex."

 How will you help reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS?
The time to act is now!

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