|by Morongoa Selepe (Jesuit Institute)
On December 1, we commemorate World AIDS Day. The global community unites to fight against HIV/AIDS, show support to people living and affected by HIV/AIDS and remember those that have died. Over the last two years, we have been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic; it might seem like we have become forgetful of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that continues to affect our lives and communities. Efforts and resources have been focused on responding to Covid-19, rightly so, but we should never drop the ball when addressing and dealing with other diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.
South Africa has the most significant number of people living with HIV/AIDS, an estimated 7.5 million people in South Africa are infected with HIV/AIDS. This fight is far from being over or won. We should agree that teenage pregnancy is a major concern in the fight against HIV/ AIDS. Rural areas and villages remain a concern due to the lack of access to information and services. Socio-economic challenges such as poverty, inequality and unemployment must be dealt with to help eradicate HIV/AIDS effectively. We must work towards ending stigma as these impact implementing programmes to eliminate and deal with HIV/AIDS.
UNAIDS said we need to eradicate HIV/AIDS by 2030; this will not happen as a lot of work still needs to be done. It is essential to notice the progress made in dealing with HIV/AIDS globally and in our South African context. Part of the progress in South Africa is the increased availability of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to people infected with HIV; this helps their quality of life and increases their life expectancy.
Among those infected in South Africa, young people between the ages of 15 to 25 make up the most considerable portion of people infected with HIV, the majority being women. Young people have access to information, so why are they getting infected? Have we taken it for granted that people know about HIV/AIDS? We must go back to educating people, especially children and youth, about HIV. However, education alone, as we have witnessed in the past, is not enough; more emphasis should be placed on behavioural change.
Behaviour change cannot be overemphasised in the fight to end HIV infections. Young people need to be equipped with resources to make better life choices. For example, some young people are afraid to get pregnant because they will be seen, but they are not scared to get HIV. We also need to mention the blesser (sugar daddy) phenomenon as one of the challenges to fighting infections in South Africa. The blesser phenomenon is one of the critical indicators of how socio-economic factors contribute to the infection rate among young people.
We need to understand why young people are infected to help them; we need more young people engaged in speaking to other young people. The theme for World AIDS Day 2022 is “equalise’. This is a call to leaders and ourselves to admit and address inequalities in our societies, posing a challenge to eradicating HIV/AIDS. May we respond to this call.