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Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Fate of AIDS Victims amid Recurrent Societal Stigmatization

Written by: Muoka Chibuzor G

Shedding burning tears as I write….

The future according to scientists will exactly be like the past, just far more expensive.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a viral pandemic that has gained the wide acceptance of being preventable but incurable, as it defies scientific advancements in medicine. Since the late 1980's AIDS took over the mantle of being the most dreaded disease in the whole world. If man could live on other planets and galaxies, AIDS might probably clinch the title of being the most dreaded ailment in the Universe. The thought of contacting or having HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) the precursor of AIDS, sends cold shivers running through the spinal nerves of men, as the absence of cure was seen as a dead end.

Back in the olden days, predominantly in various rural and unexposed African communities, when only a few men went to school as a matter of choice and availability of sponsorship, and the rest preferred informal education and market trading. Parents and guardians taught their wards that such incurable ailment was the wrath of the gods, and precisely the rewards of ominous evil. The village high priests were often sought after to pray on behalf of the sick victims and possibly liberate them from demonic enslavement. Moreover, in several cases, a witch-hunting exercise would be conducted to determine the cause of such ailment. Who is to blame? The gods or mankind? The village high priest will tell.
Several purification rites such as the washing of hand and feet, continuous fasting, and indoor prayers were observed and yet the mortality rate among society members was astronomical, and indeed it was becoming clear that the people perished as a result of gross ignorance, for they actually never knew what was wrong in the land. However, in the course of seeking a better lifestyle, they also facilitated untimely deaths. Superstitious beliefs were strongly held in high esteem and the reality was unknowingly trampled upon. Even the possibility of maggots appearing in stored meats without the presence of houseflies was even believed.

HIV spreading practices of which include: sharing of sharp objects - during male circumcision and female genital mutilation, mandatory shaving of widows, barbing and facial incisions etc. with unsterilized blades was in practice for the discovery of bacteria and viruses was yet a mystery to mankind. Unprotected sexual promiscuity, blood oaths and covenants were on the increase, coupled with destructive ignorance and absolute obstinacy to the truth that the health officials who came to sensitize the society about HIV came with. Amid pleas from these health workers for people to know their HIV status, most people actually never believed that AIDS was in existence. They felt it was some mere stories cooked up by the white man to frighten the world.

A few who were eager to learn, asked questions like, what is AIDS? Does it exist? How does it kill? But when their questions were answered rapidly, their new behaviour in response to their acknowledgement of the truth became disastrous. Most of them were immature in mind and were unable to handle the truth. Thus they made wrong decisions. The enlightened health workers failed to see the handwriting on the wall when they told the people the truth and failed to teach them in urgency that having HIV/AIDS is not the end of the road. Thus, people should not paint HIV victims as monsters nor deprive them of natural human care and love.

When the light of western influence and education fell strongly on Africans it became indisputably clear that when the use or essence of something is unknown or misunderstood, abuse is practically inevitable. Coming down home to Nigeria, people who knew about AIDS and its routes of infection (via unprotected sex, unscreened blood transfusion, sharing of sharp skin piercing devices, mother to child etc.) preferred to met out stringent and severe inhuman measures on HIV/AIDS victims. Even in the Church, AIDS victims were ostracized. For the false beliefs that if one has a handshake, come in contact with tears, saliva, faeces, urine and sweat, sit on the same seat, talk in closeness, touching objects (e.g., table, bed), insect bite (e.g., mosquitoes), use of same eating utensils, or even drink from the same cup with HIV/AIDS carriers, one automatically become infected with HIV is widely gaining acceptance.

Sometimes the AIDS victims were locked up in chains by family members and prevented from communicating with others. Victims were spoken to in a very harsh manner by society members and accused of having offended God, the gods or either reaping the fruits of unforgivable evil acts. This made most of them contemplate about committing suicide as some eventually did, for they saw no reason to keep living life. Most religious fanatics readily mounted the pulpit to declare AIDS as the punishment rod (cane) of God. Instead of teaching the people that there is still a promising future for AIDS victims, they rather embraced undue stigmatization and hatred towards AIDS victims. This severe stigmatization often aggravated and facilitated the immediate death of AIDS victims.

As a result of the way the populace of the society portrayed the image of AIDS victims, the victims now decided to not go down alone, but to go down with more victims. This ungodly act from AIDS victims was perceived by the society as an act of gross wickedness. Modern day medicine made (Anti-Retro Viral) ART drugs which can help suppress the activities of the HIV causing retrovirus and give back victims a normal lifestyle while boosting body immunity, but the Rubicon has been crossed as some victims still persisted in infecting others (I will not bear this alone - they say).

The Health practitioners had no other option than to flag off the sensitization program which says "AIDS no dey show for face", they taught the people that abstinence and adequate protection is the only remedy. The program was aimed at teaching people to be very careful as aggrieved victims might carry out revengeful activities on unsuspecting individuals.

In conclusion, stigmatizing HIV/AIDS victims will not quench the struggle for an AIDS-free society, rather it will only increase the prevalence of AIDS in the society. AIDS cannot be gotten from handshakes nor from mosquito bites, let us enlighten ourselves and embrace each other in love irrespective of HIV status, so as to make our world a better place of abode.

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