Wednesday, April 15, 2009

HIV Education

I suppose I'll take this time to explain how the HIV education works here, and how it has been going since I arrived.

The HIV education run by African Impact is held as a four day, hour and a half long course from Tuesday to Friday. The sessions are held at the Senzangethemba Day Care (the day care we operate in the mornings).

Mpho, one of the workers, acts as a translator as volunteers teach from a manual that is based on the United Nations syllabus on HIV education. The course is split into eleven different chapters. They include such subjects as stigma, treatments, how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and positive living, among many others. Statistics are also read to all participants, so that they may grasp the enormity of the epidemic.

All participants have agreed that they have never heard the UNAIDS statistics that we read to them on the first day. On this day, the participants also learn about what HIV is, and how it's transmitted.

The second day usually includes discussion and learning regarding the most common opportunistic infections that occur when an individual has acquired HIV. This includes discussion on TB, malaria, pneumonia, and fungal infections. Fungal infections is something we see on a lot of the children at the day care centre. The second day also includes discussion on Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

Thursday, demonstrations on how to use male and female condoms are done. Problems have arisen in Africa with demonstrations of condom usage. In one case, condom usage was demonstrated on an individual's finger. Then, there were cases of men having sex with condoms on their fingers – continuing to spread HIV thinking they were having protected sex. We conduct our education using a cucumber, but the booklet given to each participant contains drawing.

Then on Friday the participants write their tests. The test has twenty questions, which are all true or false and the writers have to justify their answers. Normally they will write their answers in English, though some have asked to write in Zulu, which is allowed. They must get 16 out of 20 or above to receive their certificate.

Some interesting questions have been asked, and surprising discussions have been had during the HIV education. Most questioned have said that they would not want to know their HIV status out of fear of being HIV positive.

One woman asked if white people got HIV. Another asked if it could be transmitted through computer keyboards on laptops. One lady in particular was very vocal about not coming out about being HIV positive. She said that if she went home and told her boyfriend she was HIV positive, “he would run and never come back”. This same lady also said that when people know you are HIV positive, “they laugh on the corners about you.” They all agreed they would never tell their children if they were HIV positive, “they will think I will die,” one woman said.

It's interesting to teach adults, being a teenager. The people we teach are normally adults, who struggle with writing in their own language. They are so pleased when we congratulate them on their English abilities. They're ecstatic when they receive their certificate saying they have passed the test. Education is quite possibly the only way that the spread of the HIV epidemic can be snuffed.

The people we teach will hopefully discontinue the cycle of HIV/AIDS and even if they are affected, they all promise to teach their children about the virus.

“AIDS is not an event, or a series of them; it's a mirror held up to the cultures and societies we build. The pandemic, and how we respond to it, forces us to confront the sticky issues of sex and drugs and inequality” - 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa, by Stephanie Nolan

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