ABC isn’€™t that easyLiving with AIDS # 181

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KHOPOTSO: A small group of 15 young people recently participated in a 250 km walk from Durban to Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal, to promote the idea that people should wait until they are married before having sex. This ideal ‘€“ abstinence ‘€“ is one of three components of the Department of Health’€™s HIV prevention campaign. But it’€™s been difficult to popularise the abstinence message in a country where, one in ten young people (10. 2%), between the ages of 15 and 24 is HIV positive, according to a recent survey conducted by Wits University’€™s Reproductive Health Research Unit and commissioned by loveLife. Siza of Pimville, Soweto, is one such young person for whom the A (for Abstinence) in the ABC campaign is hard to understand, let alone practice.

SIZA: You see, when you inform people you have to understand where they come from. You have to understand the average IQ level. In order for you to get the message across you have to understand the people you’€™re speaking to, understand what they know and don’€™t know, understand what they’€™re interested in’€¦ You have to create an interest in the people you’€™re sending the message to in order for them to understand and digest the message. You cannot tell people to abstain. Logically speaking, people, once they’€™ve been told ukuthi (that) you don’€™t do this and that, they want to do that. They want to know ukuthi why aren’€™t we supposed to be doing that. So, they’€™re doing that. So, abstinence is out. It’€™s out of the question.

KHOPOTSO: Up until now emphasis has largely focussed on encouraging people to use condoms. The Health Department has even launched a new product, called ‘€œChoice.’€™ Sibusiso, who is still in his teens, understands why it’€™s important to abstain from sex. Yet, he does not. But he still manages to have a dim view of condoms.    

SIBUSISO: To me it’€™s like condoms are causing AIDS’€¦ Let me just make an example. You go to a party. You’€™re a youngster. Obviously, you’€™re going to carry condoms’€¦ And now you just have to use them. That promotes sex itself, you know. And then, what does sex do?

Government giving us condoms ‘€“ it promotes sex for us, you know’€¦We hear loveLife telling us that it’€™s okay to have sex. Not sex after marriage. It’€™s okay to have sex now because the youth of today can’€™t abstain’€¦ It’€™s okay to have sex, but now you must condomise. The thing is that we don’€™t understand. All we need is just understanding.

It’€™s like they’€™re just telling us what to do and then they just back off, you know. It’€™s all over.

KHOPOTSO: It would then seem that the success of any HIV prevention message relies heavily on how the information is conveyed and over how long it’€™s sustained. But for Sonto, a 25 year-old who ironically got pregnant while she and her boyfriend were using a condom, this form of protection, with all its imperfections, seems to be the ultimate.

SONTO: It’€™s not about the quality of the condom. It’€™s what I usually tell my partner. All the condoms are not 100 % safe. (They) are 98/99. This two or one percent is up to me. It’€™s up to us’€¦ I say: ‘€˜Not that I don’€™t trust you. I do. But if you don’€™t want to practice safer sex with me, how am I going to be sure that even outside you are practising safer sex?’€™

KHOPOTSO: Sonto’€™s stance might lend support to those who condemn the use of condoms blaming it for promiscuity and lack of faithfulness to one partner ‘€“ another tenet of the ABC method of HIV prevention. Yet others might argue that she’€™s better safe than sorry. But still the question arises, how safe? Glen Mabuza, Mama G, of the AIDS Counselling Care and Training Centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, questions how the ABC campaign was formulated.

GLEN MABUZA: The government came with the ABC. Who designed that? ‘€˜Abstain.’€™ Let’€™s be honest. Let’€™s be very practical. Is it easy to abstain when you have started being sexually active? And what does abstain mean? It means different things to different people. When you come ‘€˜be faithful’€™ it’€™s a moralistic stance, you know. So, it cannot be imposed. It needs to be dialogued. ‘€˜Condomise.’€™ Who gives the option to condomise? All those three have never been an option for people. I think we saw in the condom bashes. All those condoms are being taken and just directly dropped down. To me it is that anger. Why do you give me? Who are you?

KHOPOTSO: You said ‘€˜abstain’€™ means many things to different people. If you can just elaborate on that?

GLEN MABUZA: I think abstain in itself, to me, it’€™s a verb. It’€™s a commanding word. Who commands who to do what, when who is doing what? Sex is the only thing that people have, that they can be able to perform without having to beg. It’€™s a pride, it is a culture, it’€™s what people can boast about ‘€“ that they’€™re able to have that despite that they don’€™t have money. So, I think, abstain to me, it is ugly. You know, ke tlhapa (it’€™s an insult.) You don’€™t respect me. Who are you to say this to me? You don’€™t even start by saying ‘€˜abstain.’€™ You’€™re saying to people ‘€˜how would we do?’€™                    

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe

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