Despite South Africa being a country where one in 10 people are living with HIV, stereotypes around the disease still exist. As a result, HIV is being spread due to this being a deterrent to testing.
According to Glenn de Swardt of the Anova Health Institute, “Most HIV infections occur from someone who doesn’t know that they’re HIV positive. Our irrational stereotypes about people with HIV can prevent us from undergoing an HIV test ourselves.”
An online survey has revealed that 30.5% of South African men who have sex with men (MSM) had not been tested for HIV within the past year. Of those 7.3% had never been tested.
With MSM being the country’s most at risk population for HIV acquisition and transmission, these figures are cause for alarm.
To encourage MSM to know their HIV status, the ‘WeTheBrave’ sexual health campaign, spearheaded by the Anova Health Institute and funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, has recently been launched.
The campaign calls on MSM to be brave enough to practice safe sex and get tested in order prevent new HIV infections as well as to use antiretroviral treatment when and if they need it.
“Ignorance and complex social taboos around human sexuality have resulted in harmful stereotypes about people who are HIV positive,” says De Swardt. “When we do talk about HIV, our conversations often denote it as something that happens to other people. Even if we practice high-risk behaviour, such as condom-less sex with a partner whose HIV status we’re not entirely sure of, we often see ourselves as being magically immune to infection.”
He continues: “Until we undertake a test that could confirm our being positive, we feel entitled to walk around claiming to be HIV negative. This assumption that we’re HIV negative could be completely wrong; we could be infecting our partners without knowing it. Clinging to this assumption, in spite of having taken sexual risks, seems easier than having to face the reality of possibly being HIV positive.
“With there being approximately 1,100 new infections every day in South Africa, don’t allow your stereotypes, prejudices and taboos to harm yourself, your partner or others. Respect people who are HIV positive for being brave enough to deal with reality and muster your own courage to know your own HIV status,” concludes de Swardt.
The WeTheBrave campaign links to Anova’s Health4Men clinical services in the public sector and independent clinicians in the private sector.
For more information on the campaign please visit www.wethebrave.co.za or follow it on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Join the conversation with #BraveEnough.