“When we started wearing “HIV positive” t-shirts, that was a strategy to try to break down stigma and discrimination because we say that if you are not infected, then you are affected,” said Nombuso Gxuluwe, a TAC member in the organisation’s East Rand Phumula branch outside Johannesburg.
Gxuluwe was speaking at an East Rand meeting that brought local activists together with peers from countries such as Madagascar, Rwanda and Seychelles. The meeting came ahead of a larger, UNAIDS-hosted regional meeting on HIV set to start today in Johannesburg.
TAC delegates added that wearing their HIV positive t-shirts helped start a conversation that helped South Africa ramp up HIV treatment. It was the kind of conversation that others in the region hope to replicate in their own countries.
“In our region the HIV prevalence is very high and we need to reach everybody,” said UNAIDS Rwanda Representative Dieudonne Ruturwa, who added that the South African experience has been a lesson in activism for other countries. “There is much that TAC has done in South Africa and I would wish that we have many such organisations like TAC in our region to make sure that the community is getting access to treatment.”
As in South Africa, treatment adherence remains a key issue in Rwanda’s HIV response, Dieudonne added.
Germaine Gill from the civil society organisation Liaison-Unit of Non-Governmental Organisations of Seychelles told OurHealth that activists are keen to take the lessons TAC has learned and apply them back home. Gill added that HIV stigma remains high in Seychelles and continues to prevent people living with HIV from coming forward and seeking treatment.
“If, in Seychelles, we can have organisations like TAC and have the HIV positive t-shirts, I believe people will be motivated and come forward … and the death rate due to HIV will decrease,” Gill said.
Meanwhile Phumula TAC Chairperson Bongani Radebe added that the TAC’s work is not over in South Africa where people continue to be misled by quacks and charismatic preachers who falsely promise to cure HIV.
“Our people are being misled and some are afraid of coming out but we, as TAC, try by all means to be their voices and fight for their rights,” he told OurHealth.
TAC recently announced it had about one-third of the budget it would need to operate in 2015 and has launched an international fundraising campaign.