World AIDS Day (WAD) is held on 01 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from HIV or Aids related conditions. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988 (worldaidsday.org).
Overtime, discussions on HIV/AIDS have seemingly became redundant, with people feeling ‘AIDS fatigue’, which can be defined as an oversaturation of information due to having heard the same thing over and over again. Even though that was the case, issues of change in social, sexual and risky behaviour seemed not to improve. Information on sexual health is not fully impacting, and so this resulted in one question: are these global health days and annual campaigns even relevant? Are they impacting and are they sustainable?
Activators Nomtika, Lance, Ramontseng and Keith decided to unpack this day by hosting a dialogue with fellow Activators and their peers, dissecting the meaning and understanding of WAD on an individual level and sharing knowledge on the key population groups and how they are affecting the infection rate (prevalence vs incidence). The event took place on Saturday, 05 December, at the Artscape Resource Centre in Cape Town. The primary aim of the event, as stated, was to understand the relevance of WAD on individuals but also to highlight the successes, challenges and blind spots when it comes to AIDS research and awareness.
To kick-off the dialogue, guest speaker Pancho Mulongeni (UCT Master’s Student) gave an insightful presentation of a research study he is doing on HIV/AIDS, particularly amongst Men who have sex with Men (MSM) as that group is among the key populations. That presentation was a springboard to a discussion of factors that contribute to the spread of the virus regardless of all the information shared and made available. Some of the factors that came up were issues of transactional and intergenerational sex, on all levels of sexual activity. “Some young men admitted to engaging in sex with older, richer men in order to benefit financial rewards”, said Pancho.
This applies to a greater population of young people that engage in sexual relations with older, or prominent men in order to gain status and money. Such is one of the main reasons why HIV incidence is also continuing. This is also why the ACTIVATE! Network was supportive of SRJC’s Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng in her advocacy against the Show ‘Our Perfect Wedding’ romanticizing statutory rape on one of its episodes.
One of the interesting findings that came from the MSM presentation was the percentage (about 17%) of heterosexual men who had admitted to having had sex with men before, but would never admit that publicly. This raised an issue of concern to activator and nodal coordinator Lezerine Mashaba as she explained how this to her draws to the cycle of infection. “So you get this heterosexual (straight) man who is married but goes on to have sex with another man and for argument’s sake gets infected. He comes home to his wife, and they do not use a condom because they are married and she gets infected. It is a cycle and leaves me wondering how, then, will be educating or intervening in such spaces to avoid new HIV infections”, she said.
So the discussion was collated to the point of understanding the role that young people, as change drivers and citizens, play in fighting against HIV/AIDS. As the topic drew to solution space, activator Keith Knoop asked the question of accountability. “Who, would we say, is responsible when addressing the issue of the HIV spread. We deal with stigma, lack of education and inequitable access. Who do we hold accountable?” he asked. Activators had these questions to answer as they broke into groups discussing proposed solutions in terms of Research Policy, Communication and Advocacy.
“I think one of the best ways in which we can start working well towards educating young people on HIV/AIDS is if we encourage health facilities to collaborate with NGOs and other independent organisations. We cannot be calling Health for Men all the way but struggle to access some resources in our own space”, activator Lerato said.
“WAD is still very relevant. Here we are, educating each other about population groups we had no understanding of. We learn every day, but it is about the delivery of the information. We need to take these dialogues to our communities. Make use of our community leaders and use them to share the knowledge as they have influence over community members. We need to be innovative on our approach”, said Alex Ntombana, Western Cape Activator.
Other activators that were part of the discussion include Zikhona, Peter Wright and Lelethu of the Western Cape.
Nomtika Mjwana, Lance Louskitier and Ramontseng Rapolaki are 2015 activators who work together in hosting workshops, informative dialogues and are co-founder of an African storytelling website- Afrosories.