AIDS update — Discrimination is not protection

25 November 2002
IN 1993 China denied that it was at risk from AIDS, and called it a disease of the decadent West. In Romania in 1990, it was dismissed as a “capitalist disease”. Muslim groups in the Middle East said that their religion would protect them. In Britain, despite extensive awareness campaigns, a newspaper report in 1992 quoted Asian immigrants as saying that it was a disease that affected bored Britons who went in for sexual experimentation. Denial put these groups immediately at risk, writes Emma Durden from the UCT HIV/AIDS Unit.

Around the world, groups that were already marginalised: gay men, commercial sex workers and intra-venous drug users, were the first to be infected with HIV. The disease grew alongside the notion that only these people were at risk: if you weren't “like that”, you weren't at risk. The notion of risk groups developed – which has now been overruled by the notion of risk behaviour. It does not matter who you are, it matters what you do. It is your behaviour that puts you at risk, not your age or your ethnic group or your education.

The practice of “othering”, separating ourselves from other groups, is a mechanism that we use to cocoon and protect ourselves in a safer world, where we can deny the fact that we may be vulnerable to infection with a virus that we know has no cure. Apart from creating a false sense of security that may encourage risky behaviour practice, this way of thinking also breeds discrimination and stigmatisation.

The AIDS epidemic in South Africa has been fuelled by this kind of ignorant thinking, and caused division and hatred in a country that needs to unite in order to cope with the disease.

The 1998 murder of Gugu Dlamini, a young HIV positive activist in Durban, was perhaps the most visible display of this fear. Challenging fear and discrimination is one of the ways in which we can all contribute towards effectively managing AIDS.

The theme for World AIDS Day 2002 is “Live and let live”, an appeal against discrimination worldwide. The UCT HIV/AIDS Unit, in association with the Occupational Health Unit, will be hosting a free concert to celebrate the day. The UCT Choir for Africa and the jazz band Metswalle will perform at the event held on Friday, November 29 in Jameson Hall. The concert will begin at 12.30, and the official lunch-hour has been extended so that staff can attend.

All of the UCT community are invited, we hope that you will join us, to “live and let live”.

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