KHOPOTSO: Myths concerning HIV and AIDS are as old as the infection itself. In high school, I was told that AIDS (A-I-D-S) stood for an American Idea to Destroy Sex, a weapon to wipe out the populations of Africa ‘ and we were encouraged to have sex. I can’t tell you what I understood of that by then. But I can tell you that I was very scared. Such was the effect on me that I did not attempt to have sex for many years to come. And this was at a time when I knew no one who was HIV-positive, let alone dying of AIDS. Today, that belief still exists and there are plenty of others.
BERNADETTE ROBERTSON: We’ve been getting a lot of calls with regard to whether they bath with Sunlight, particularly. And that was the women. If they bath after they have sex with Sunlight, does it lower the risk? And definitely, it doesn’t. Even if you use any antiseptic or anything like that, there is just no scientific proof that it reduces or minimises the risk.
KHOPOTSO: What Sunlight are we talking about?
BERNADETTE ROBERTSON: It’s the green bar that you generally wash your clothes with.
KHOPOTSO: Is that what is called douching?
BERNADETTE ROBERTSON: Yes, yes. You can call it douching. You have the Betadine douches that women use if they have an infection. But that doesn’t assist, unfortunately.
KHOPOTSO: That’s Bernadette Robertson, the manager of loveLife’s help-line, Thetha Junxion, which caters for youths between the ages of 12 – 17. Lawrence Mokoua is the Assistant call centre manager of the national AIDS help-line.
LAWRENCE MOKOUA: The myths that people talk about and want clarity on is: Can a man who is HIV-infected get rid of the virus by sleeping with a virgin. Also, especially among children, they would ask about mosquitoes – whether a mosquito can transfer the virus from one person to the other. And, also, whether a person who is circumcised actually cannot get the virus from another person?
KHOPOTSO: There is some scientific evidence, including a study conducted in Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg, to suggest that HIV risk among circumcised men is lower.
But this does not mean that circumcised men are immune from HIV infection.
As for sleeping with virgin girls, that is nearly as old as HIV infection itself and there is no proof ‘ scientific or otherwise – to support the belief. But it still persists, with damaging consequences. A statement made last week by the former deputy president of the country in his rape trial has also caused an outcry and some potential confusion. Thetha Junxion, loveLife’s help-line, saw an increase of calls relating to myths in the week that Zuma claimed that taking a shower could prevent HIV transmission.
BERNADETTE ROBERTSON: There was an 8% increase around the myths of HIV, as compared to 300 000 calls that we receive in a month’¦ After Zuma made the statement Zulu men feel that they are now immune to HIV just because it had come from such a prominent person’¦ Or about if you sleep with somebody who is HIV-positive for the very first time, what are your chances of getting HIV? That was the common myth that we handled.
KHOPOTSO: But, really, can a personal statement made in court proceedings on such a matter as HIV risk reduction spill out to influence people’s behaviour? I put that question to the national AIDS help-line’s Lawrence Mokoua.
LAWRENCE MOKOUA: It has a potential to mislead others, to honestly say. But it also provided a platform for debate on HIV/AIDS’¦ People are still going to phone and say, ‘I’m really concerned. I want to know whether this is true’. Others will say, ‘this statement really opened my eyes to seek information’. I think that’s the advantage of it.
KHOPOTSO: Bernadette Robertson works with the youth.
BERNADETTE ROBERTSON: I would say that youths are facing up to the facts of HIV. There is that percentage where people really feel that just because they don’t want to change behaviour they will believe statements like that. But I generally feel that (the) majority of the public out there knows that that is just a myth and definitely do not believe in that statement. They are starting to educate themselves and gain knowledge about HIV’¦ They’re not that gullible.
KHOPOTSO: Evidently, the season for myths surrounding HIV and AIDS won’t come to an end. It’s up to the individual to make choices that won’t place their life in danger, in spite of what information they may get, which is most likely to confuse.