In this crazy world of trying to save us all from an uber-minuscule virus, HIV, one of the most controversial topics is Prevention Messaging.
Surely as an epidemic ravages East and Southern Africa we should just be plain blunt. Hit people with scary images, with sickening facts, what type of practices are really driving this virus wider. We don’t have time to pussyfoot around. Surely?
In horror to other more diplomatic doctors, development workers, and public health employees this region has witnessed a great deal of irresponsible messaging, hard-hitting campaigns, or some completely obscure attempts to appeal to the youth’s hormones. (HA! Good luck on the last one. If you could solve that, parents’ of teenagers the world round would sanctify you).
Yes, teenage pregnancy and HIV infection are linked, but in the way that both indicate that unprotected sex took place. It does not mean that a pregnant teenage girl is HIV+, or an HIV+ teenage girl has a coupla kids stashed at home with grandma. It also does not indicate why unprotected sex took place. You are one lucky person in this region if you have full control over every aspect of your sex life.
A single billboard along a highway or a 30 second radio ad does not convey the complexity of such situations. The more diplomatic Prevention advocates do believe that it rather elevates stigma, fear, simplifying a chaotic situation, and drives the disease back towards thriving in the Silence.
But there can be situations of too much diplomacy. Talk Talk Talk. Where the hell is the action?! People can twist themselves into knots with all their expensive meetings and debates and consultancies on just how to tell a kid how to survive uninfected till his thirties. Messages become bland, vague, unfocused and easily ignored.
With that in mind, read the following article from the Washington Post - Makhwapheni Uyabulala – Your Secret Lover can kill you.... In Swaziland, 'Secret Lovers' Confronted in Fight Against AIDS
This ad campaign appeared in July and shook the tiny Swazi nation. There was national debate and rethinking of sexual practices. People became enticed to advocate, “Say No to Multiple Sex Partners!" while others angrily shouted that this was moralising the issue, that people have a choice to have as many sex partners as they wanted, rather explain how to keep such practices safe.
There has been a long-standing consensus among anti-AIDS groups that educational messages should inspire hope rather than fear. Blunt simplified messaging often leads to “blame”. But perhaps some blaming and finger pointing does need to start? When women are becoming infected when they have only ever had sex with their husband, maybe then the husband needs to be blamed & face the consequences? Or vice versa if she was the unfaithful partner.
This campaign was a “desperate bid to force Swazis to take responsibility for protecting themselves, and their loved ones, from AIDS”. Is some ownership of one’s reality and responsibility not what is needed in the solution???
HIV+ activists cried that they felt insulted and undermined by this accusation. It blames the victims of the disease. And we need to realise that all of us who are of the age to have sex are vulnerable to the disease and so potential victims.
Eventually the campaign was toned down. But “the word makhwapheni (Secret Lover) was not so easily erased from the minds of Swazis. All over the country, it continued to dominate conversations. When cellphones buzzed with the arrival of text messages, some would joke, "Is that your makhwapheni?" ….children of women with HIV began asking their mothers, "Do you have a makhwapheni?" ….a few families [were prompted] to banish relatives who were open about having HIV…It was saying, women are prostitutes, women are the ones bringing HIV”.
But it made a difference - “Among Swazis surveyed, 86 percent had heard of the campaign, and despite the controversy, 91 percent agreed with its message warning against the dangers of multiple sexual partners, and 78 percent said it made them consider changing their own sexual behavior.”
Or did it make a difference? Or have people just realized what needs to be answered when such surveys are conducted? (The same way a group of KZN youths once admitted to a South African woman that they knew when ‘the Americans’ came around asking questions about sexual practice they adamantly claimed to practicing abstinence, which apparently was often a blatant lie.)
“But one man it did affect was Ndlangamandla, the newspaper editor…Years of watching Swazis die, including several friends, did not force him to accept that his fondness for girlfriends endangered him and his wife, and ran the risk of making their two children orphans. The makhwapheni campaign -- and especially the conversations it provoked -- did…. “I will be at the bar," Ndlangamandla said, "but you'll never find me with another woman. I'm scared”.”
So, my dear blog reader, are you going to banish the makhwapheni’s from your life? Are you going to stop having (un)intentional unfaithful moments in your life? Are you going to cut down your sex life to a single person? Or can you honestly claim that this has never or will never apply to you….or your partner.