World AIDS Day Brings Hope This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 21, 2011
When you sit down to read your favorite fashion magazine, what do you see? After a day of classes in South Africa with The Traveling School, I picked up a South African Cosmopolitan magazine left at the hostel by other tourists. I started out admiring the trends and pop culture, but as I continued, I began to notice the content. The articles didn't just revolve around Hollywood actors or a new designer. Many focused on HIV/AIDS, its treatment, and social issues involved. I was surprised to find information on this pressing public health issue was available in a form other than a science journal. I usually view that the media is a poor support system for women's self-confidence, but here was important information displayed in an accessible way.

In one Cosmo article, a doctor introduced a gel tablet, not yet on the market, to help decrease HIV transmission rates in women. In a Cosmo advice column, a woman asked what she should do about her husband, who is HIV-positive and sleeping around. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa has the most people infected with HIV/AIDS in the world. Of the 49 million population, 5.7 million tested positive, and this may be a low estimate due to limited statistics in rural areas.

When I arrived in South Africa last year, I realized how significantly HIV/AIDS affects the country. On December 1, World AIDS Day, my classes focused on how to interview people on this taboo subject with sensitivity and professionalism. We discussed stigmas attached to HIV/AIDS and the importance of girls' education to prevent its spread. World AIDS Day brings awareness to the disease on a worldwide level. Spending that day in the heart of South Africa brought its significance to a personal level.

The province of KwaZulu-Natal has the largest number of HIV/AIDS infections in the whole country: 39 percent are positive. In addition to magazines and newspapers, billboards publicize the dangers of HIV and ways to prevent it. A depiction of a woman sitting on a chair with bruised cheeks and bloody scars as a man towers over her is accompanied by the caption “Abuse – just stop it. Sexual harassment is a crime.” This brings attention to the sexual abuse women face, which often leads to their infection with HIV. Down the road were two more billboards, one with the slogan “Get tested today” and another of a mother and newborn that read “HIV transmission is preventable.” Almost a third of pregnant women in South Africa are infected.

This killer disease has taken lives for decades, but in 2010 the infection rate stabilized. When I traveled to KwaZulu-Natal two years ago as a sophomore with The Traveling School, I noticed free condoms available in public restrooms, stores, and border crossings. This time I witnessed even more government and community work on the pandemic. South Africa's new slogan – “We are responsible” – brings hope to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Thanks to South Africa's efforts in conjunction with the our president's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (a pledge to provide $48 billion across 16 countries to fight infectious diseases such as AIDS), the situation has improved. Though statistics show an improvement, vast and complicated issues still remain. The funding helps build clinics to provide anti-retroviral drugs free of charge to all of South Africa. Unfortunately in rural communities, reaching the clinics continues to be difficult, especially for women who need prenatal care to lessen the chances of transmission to their babies. Additionally, the stigma of HIV can negatively affect a woman's place in society and her hope of receiving treatment.

I met an HIV positive girl at a feeding center in the Limpopo region. Both her parents had died of HIV, and she lived with her grandmother, who also looked after four of her cousins. She did not have the opportunity to attend school and spent most days at the feeding center. I also met a woman at an HIV clinic who told me how “it is difficult for [her] to get here. It is expensive.” Through my interactions, interviews, articles, and books I've read, I have gained information on how HIV/AIDS affects South Africa, particularly its women.

Today hundreds of women are silenced by the fear that “to acknowledge AIDS in yourself is to be branded as monstrous,” according to one AIDS patient. Hopefully with the increase of positive media addressing women's issues regarding HIV/AIDS, infection rates in women will continue to decrease.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Katsview This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm
Great job! I'm surprised nobody commented. I don't have much experience with the disease (or didn't before, I should say) but now this has helped me understand what HIV/ AIDS is, and what we can do to decrease/ hopefully, stop it.
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