— By Thato from Lesotho
Earlier this year, I laid to rest a very close cousin of mine, Chikabo. The last I saw of him was in 2014 at the Maseru border. He was so full of life and always had some insane story to share. I vividly recall how he would always make me miss my ride with his never ending hilarious stories. Even with all my intent, I never got to see him when he fell ill; I wanted to remember him as I knew him, happy and full of life.
He died of AIDS related illness.
Before that I also laid my uncle to rest. Born in 1970, Uncle Sam was such a sweet man. When I went to see him, he was a shadow of his former self; his skeleton was sprawled on the bed and I just felt the need to add more meat to his skinny structure and bring him to his old form. He arrived in January from Johannesburg, South Africa. I got a call from my mother telling me that he had arrived and was very sick. Uncle Sam was HIV positive. He made the statistics of the many friends and relatives I have lost to HIV/AIDS.
HIV & Denial
The sad thing about these two loves of mine is that although they had known all along that they were infected with HIV, they both admitted to having ceased to take their medication when they were feeling better. By the time they wanted to resume medication intake, it was already too late. I am not sure whether I am angry at them for having cared less about their lives or angry at the stigma surrounding HIV, which has put so much pressure on people, to the extent that people would rather die than face this monster. In Lesotho for instance, there still exist people who view HIV as the white person or urban people’s disease, while others would blame witchcraft when they test positive.
Any HIV related topic has become so cliché, yet people are still not educated. At the beginning of the voluntary male medical circumcision campaigns in the country, I could hear the excitement in the air about the newly found freedom to have unprotected sex. The fact that male circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV by approximately 60% translated differently to many, so I assume. To many this meant freedom to have unprotected sex. When all is said and done, comes denial, which is seen when people refuse to take medication, stop taking the medication when they feel better or resort to traditional remedies instead.
Of the many funeral services I attended where I knew quite well that the person was HIV positive, it was never disclosed how one’s life came to an end. The cause of death was always pinned to tuberculosis or witchcraft. This denial bothers me deeply. The fact that there are other diseases which are more dangerous than HIV should be comforting to people infected with HIV. Statistics shriek daily about the horrors of ever increasing diabetes and cancer related deaths, yet people are still more worried about a disease which, with the help of antiretroviral, is manageable.
HIV & Women
This is sad news for Lesotho, who is rated second in terms of HIV prevalence. Studies have revealed that women are the ones mostly affected by HIV, the very same studies which have shown that women test more than their male counter parts. Patriarchal society has exposed women to this scourge and other things like gender based violence. Women in Lesotho are still seen as minors, which deprives them of the negotiating power when it comes to sexual matters in their relationships. A woman in Lesotho cannot demand the use of condoms in the home because such behavior is frowned upon. Men are the ones with the final say in the majority of matters Our society has okay-ed men’s habits of dating several women while women are expected not to question such behavior. This has not only exposed women to HIV infections it also has contributed to other forms of gender-based violence.
While the Gender agenda has placed so much emphasis on gender equality, the need has never been this great for Basotho women to be empowered to own the negotiation power when it comes to sexual matters in their relationships. Women should be able to insist on the use of condom if they feel a need for such, they should also be able to say no to sex without being made to feel guilty. The unfortunate thing is that a woman is always blamed when their husband passes on, either she infected him or bewitched him if not some silly story far related to HIV.
It is quite unsettling to belong to a society that condones such nonsensical behaviors; this exerts so much pressure on an individual who sees things otherwise. I always feel like a black sheep and a rebel when I talk with my friends and colleagues about the need to use condoms in our relationship; be it with a spouse or a partner. It is worth noting that research and studies have indicated that in Lesotho women are more forthcoming when it comes to HIV testing, while men are rather reluctant. The statistics goes on to show that women are mostly infected with HIV as compared to their counterparts. The use of a condom in the home should not be negotiable; this has the potential of decreasing HIV infections as well as maintaining happy relations where there won’t be a blame game when things turn sour.