They are not untouchables…

“Sometimes I have a terrible feeling that I am dying not from the virus, but from being untouchable”
– Amanda Heggs

This is for the numerous people around the world infected with HIV/AIDS. This is not a pity case. This is a means to show you that love and compassion should know no boundaries.

I am by no means a super woman. This is my attempt to change your mind about people living with HIV/AIDS. If I am able to create a small change in your view, I will consider it to be my success.

HIV/AIDS. I had heard of it in newspapers, magazine articles and documentaries but just like many others, if a topic does not hit close to home for you, you tend to keep it afar. Simply put, it does not affect you so you don’t need to think about it. Sadly, it’s a natural occurrence to us humans.

Despite of hearing about HIV/AIDS from various medias and through education, people are still ignorant about it. I did not realise this until I volunteered in South Africa and Tanzania.

Sea of Misconceptions

Children at Mama Lumka’s in Cape Town were orphaned either due to domestic disturbance, abuse, violence leading to either parent being sent away to prison, inability of the parent to be entrusted with taking care of their child, or children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. These were reasons that even if harsh, I could still digest. Some of the children had been abandoned and neglected due to HIV/AIDS. I struggled to deal with this reason.

The disabled and the diseased are usually the first ones to be abandoned by their society. The main reason being they are looked as a person that brings embarrassment to their family. During my brief volunteering in Bali (Indonesia) for a non-profit organisation, I had heard of physically disabled children being locked away in a room with a bucket, neglected. It was the same in South Africa.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be abandoned and neglected? Every child wants to be loved. If this was taken away from you due to a reason that you, as a child, do not understand, how would you feel?

On my last day in South Africa, all of us volunteers got asked to fill a feedback form which were to be collected in the evening from the kitchen table. It was 4 pages long. I am not a big fan of filling in forms. By the end of it, I asked some of the volunteers what they had answered to the question – ‘Suggestions for improvement’. Their response – “More education to volunteers about AIDS. Maybe knowledge of which children have AIDS and how volunteers can protect themselves”.

The part of “How volunteers can protect themselves” astounded me. It seemed as if they thought that HIV/AIDS can be contracted by touching an infected child.

Misconceptions about HIV/AIDS are widespread – not just restricted to people from developing countries or poor economic backgrounds.

#1 on the HIV/AIDS misconception list – I can get HIV/AIDS by touching an infected person.

HIV/AIDS is contracted from unprotected sex, sharing needles, contact with an infected person’s blood or from mother to child through breastfeeding (if the mother has HIV/AIDS).

You can’t contract HIV/AIDS by shaking hands or hugging the infected person.

Volunteering at Mama Nora’s in Arusha (Tanzania), we took the children to get a complete medical check-up. We knew some of the children had AIDS but we were not sure which ones. Moreover, the Mama did not seem to know or bother about the well-being of these children.

“What are the tell tale signs of HIV/AIDS?” crossed our minds. We suspected some of the children had ringworm due to them being too underweight for their age but how can you tell if they have HIV/AIDS? One suggested that you can tell if a person has AIDS from their appearance (apparently if they sweat a lot). This is another misconception. The answer is you can’t always tell.

Another misconception – HIV positive individuals can be detected by their appearance

Due to media images of the effects of AIDS, many people believe that individuals infected with HIV will always appear a certain way, or at least appear different than an uninfected, healthy person. In fact, disease progression can occur over a long period of time before the onset of symptoms, and as such, HIV infections cannot be detected based on appearance. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misconceptions_about_HIV_and_AIDS)

After the blood test, we found 3 of the children to be HIV positive.

If I showed you pictures of them, you would not even suspect it. They look like any other children. Happily singing songs we taught them and playing games outdoors.

They are human beings too…

People with HIV/AIDS look like me and you. We dream of exploring the world, of finding someone to share our heart with, to be successful in whatever we do. They share these dreams too. We want to belong, to feel loved, to laugh, to be appreciated, to be cared for, to care for. They long for these too.

They are like me and you.

Last day with the kids at Mama Nora's Orphanage (Tanzania)

Facts about prevalence of AIDS in Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region of the world. An estimated 22.9 million people are living with HIV in the region – around two thirds of the global total. (Source: http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-africa.htm)

East and Southern Africa remains the area most heavily affected by the HIV epidemic. Out of the total number of people living with HIV worldwide in 2009, 34% resided in 10 countries of Southern Africa.With an estimated 5.6 million [5.4 million–5.8 million] HIV-positive people, South Africa continues to have the world’s largest HIV epidemic (Source: http://www.unaids.org/en/regionscountries/regions/easternandsouthernafrica/)

Note: I have not included specific pictures of those children infected with HIV/AIDS in my blog post as I believe in preserving the innocence of these children. They are like any other children and I do not believe in differentiating them as being apart from others. I also refuse to portray them as victims or as medical exhibits. I would like to reiterate that the main aim of this post is to create a change in view, not to induce pity.

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2 responses to “They are not untouchables…

    • Thanks for that info 🙂 I didn’t realise that home testing kits were available. It was pretty much basic in Tanzania – we had to take the children to the hospital and get them tested.

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