Two weeks ago I watched the 1993 film Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington for the first time! I have heard about it but obviously never got round to watching it. Naturally it got me thinking about how far the world has come in the war against HIV and AIDS and how much work still needs to be done, as I discussed in a previous post. December is a month known as the festive / religious season of Christmas, although now it’s more about the retail industry boosting profits than the real meaning of Christmas; red is the usual celebratory colour during this time. From 1st December I noticed people started to adorn themselves with red ribbons, not in preparation for Christmas but for World AIDS day.
Before I start, let me just say that I am not nor ever will be a fan of Coronation Street! I am an Eastenders fan all the way! The Mitchells, the Brannings, Ian Beale, Kim, Denise, Janine, Kat and Alfie…… I love them all :-). I also love that, even though they have washing machines everyone still visits the Laundrette to do their washing! Anyway, let me not digress (especially for those of you who are unfortunately not Eastenders fans).
So I finally managed to catch up with ‘Corrie goes to Kenya’. Cast members from the soap went to the rural town, Bangladesh (estimated population 20,000) in Kenya to participate in a drama series with Kenyan actors to educate locals and try to break down the social stigma surrounding HIV in Kenya. This was made possible by a charity called S.A.F.E, founded by British actor Nick Reding in 2001.
According to the program, this rural town has no running water and around 10% of the residents have HIV. What struck me most was the immense stigma that hangs over those who are infected. During the program anecdotal tales of young infected children being beaten up and scared to play outside, men and women not even telling their husbands/wives they are infected as well as rape are all used as avenues for the disease to spread. I think the stigma is worse for women than for men, either way it’s still there. One of the local ambassadors for S.A.F.E was able to gradually tell the rest of his community about his HIV+ status and seemed to have been accepted. Watching the program made me think of how, in the UK we can take public health messages and the NHS for granted. Most HIV clinics in Kenya are charity, not government funded. It is difficult to get life-saving health education to rural communities in Kenya for obvious reasons; but it’s through education that people will be empowered.
Despite the best efforts around the world, the HIV vaccine still manages to slip through the fingers of medical science, primarily because there are many variations of the HIV virus and it is able to enter cells in the body and combine with normal human cell DNA making it difficult for the human immune system to attack and kill the virus. The virus is able to multiply undetected by the immune system and when ready, goes on to destroy the very cells that we use to fight infections.
Many wonder when there will ever be an effective HIV vaccine, Dr Robert Gallo, one of the scientists who discovered HIV in the 80’s responded, ‘Anybody who gives you an answer to that is telling you fantasies, deliberately or unconsciously’. So prevention, through education and empowerment is definitely better than cure; especially as there is no ‘cure’ at the moment.
doubleaad : AdelinA