Better sorry than safe?
Living with AIDS # 202

KHOPOTSO: Once again it’€™s the leaders and opinion-makers that send controversial messages. The masses have the responsibility to regard the messages as guidance or discard them as rubbish. Fact is, there is no debate that the condom is not 100 % effective in protecting against HIV and other STI’€™s, or even pregnancy, for that matter. A condom is 98 % safe. The remaining 2 % depends on your skills to use it. That is what Chief Buthelezi neglected to mention in his address to the Cape Town Press Club, last week. He also came out in support of ‘€œcompulsory’€ HIV testing for couples wanting to marry. Some countries like Botswana, have moved away from the Voluntary Counselling and Testing premise to making the HIV test a routinely offered service. Note the word ‘€œroutinely’€ as opposed to ‘€œcompulsory’€. But has Buthelezi ever considered those who don’€™t intend to marry and still have doubts about condoms, yet are sexually active and therefore, at risk of contracting HIV? Siza, is one of many such people who are looking for an answer.

SIZA:

We have to get something very concrete in order for a person like me to wear a condom always, ‘€˜cos you see, you cannot be sleeping with one person for six months using a condom. There will be that day when you feel like, this person doesn’€™t have AIDS. This person is not HIV positive. So, we just have to be well-informed so that it’€™s basic to me to wear a condom’€¦ ‘€˜cos if I was well-informed, then I would never even think of not wearing a condom’€¦ not unless I plan to get married or not unless I am married at the time and I plan not to sleep around.

KHOPOTSO: Siza alludes to the need for access to enough quality information. You might argue that there’€™s already a whole lot of information on how to safe-guard oneself from HIV infection, yet people aren’€™t getting the message. True, but more questions follow: What quality of information is being churned out? Or are we simply an ignorant nation? Also, can we afford to sacrifice one message over another, especially in a country where safe sex is still not an option for others, such as 25 years-old Sonto?

SONTO:

I do experience some difficulties. I’€™m having this long-term relationship with my partner. It’€™s not easy if you’€™ve been in a relationship for more than two or three years, while you’€™ve never used a condom. And one day you just pop (in) and say, ‘€œHi, sweetie, today we’€™re going to use a condom’€. Why? Because he’€™s going to be suspicious. Why all of a sudden you want a condom, but you didn’€™t speak about a condom from the beginning, you know.

KHOPOTSO: The consequences of having sex are well known to many. Sibusiso, who is in his late teens, is no exception.

 SIBUSISO:

Sex comes with a whole lot of responsibilities, you know. If you’€™re gonna have sex, think twice before having that. I know that it’€™s very impossible when you’€™re in the situation right now. But just think about it. Think. Is it worth it? I mean, is it worth it? Having sex is like putting a gun to your head, thinking: Must I pull the trigger, or mustn’€™t? Having sex is a risk, yeah.  

KHOPOTSO: But even this knowledge has not saved 10, 2 % of South African youths between the ages of 15 ‘€“ 24 who are estimated to be HIV positive from contracting the virus. The figure is according to last year’€™s report of a survey conducted by Wits University’€™s Reproductive Health & HIV Research Unit, commissioned by loveLife. With infection rates such as these, and with an as yet not fully-tested campaign to discourage people from early or pre-marital sex, it’€™s clear that condoms need not be thrown out of the equation in HIV prevention campaigns. Or does Chief Buthelezi suppose that better sorry than safe should apply?

 e-mail: Khopotso Bodibe

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