AIDS education ongoing in South Africa
PRETORIA, South Africa (BP)--On a bright, clear day at a park in Pretoria, children dash with exuberant energy from the bounce houses to the swings to the mechanical bull, happily oblivious to the world around them.
On the opposite side of Burgers Park is a sign stands with an intriguing message: "Bury the myths, not the patients."
Resting beneath the sign is a child-sized coffin bearing the message, "Save the Ill." The inside of the coffin is covered with sticky notes telling the myths that surround HIV/AIDS in South Africa, host of the World Cup tournament that ended July 11.
The myths, which were targeted as part of a "Better World Village" outreach at the park, range from the belief that the disease is in condoms to the misconception that having sex with a virgin is the cure for AIDS. None of the myths are true, but when trying to understand why the disease spreads and how it can be cured, many will believe anything, because the answer at least gives them reason and hope.
The tent behind the coffin is a place where people can be tested for HIV confidentially, and counseling is provided for those who test positive.
A few people uncomfortably wait outside the tent, not really wanting to be seen there but needing to know what direction their life is about to take. The impatience of having to wait is evidenced by the nervous twisting of hands or the picking of nails.
Counselors joke and talk among themselves and those waiting, hoping to ease the furrowed brows and concerned eyes. One by one those waiting are called into the small tents set up as counseling rooms to hear the results of their tests.
Manisha, a social worker at the HIV/AIDS tents, is working fervently to slow and eventually stop the spread of HIV and AIDS in South Africa.
"We feel like it's very important to make our people [South Africans] aware of the dangers that we are facing with the rising rates of the HIV/AIDS disease [in South Africa]," she said.
According to UNAIDS, an estimated 5.7 million South Africans have HIV, the largest epidemic in the world.
Manisha works with many of those who come to the Better World Village for testing. For those who test negative, "We've got to help them stay that status," she said. "... Holistically, we've been trying to go back to the Bible ... back to the basics, back to morality, back to respect."
She teaches those who test positive about living with HIV/AIDS and encourages them that their lives can continue in a happy and normal fashion. She also teaches them about antiretrovirals (ARVs), the medications that will prolong the lives of HIV/AIDS patients and help prevent the ugly symptoms that arise with untreated cases of the disease. Many people are unaware these life-giving drugs exist.
Manisha also uses the intensity of the drugs to encourage young people to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS. "ARVs are for a lifetime," she said. "No holidays, no vacations, no weekends, nothing. You're on an ARV and you're going to stay there forever."
As she works, shadows of frustration and hardship mark her face, but hope and determination are in her eyes. Through her work at the Better World Village, Manisha hopes more South Africans will "understand that there's no limitations to ... living positively with [HIV/AIDS]."
Evelyn Adamson is an intern writer for the International Mission Board's global communication team on assignment in South Africa covering the events, matches and ministries related to the World Cup.