Ignorance and denial about AIDS
Yesterday (Saturday) I had to drive up to the capital city (rather town) Mbabane in the northern part of Swaziland for a meeting. Shortly after I left home someone asked for a lift and ended up driving virtually the entire distance with me. He’s a customs official working at one of the border gates between Swaziland and South Africa. After some small talk between us, he suddenly referred to an AIDS conference that had been held in their area a few weeks ago. I asked him if he had attended, but he had not. So I then asked him how much he knew about AIDS and it was clear that he had been informed about the most basic stuff about AIDS saying that abstinence and faithfulness was really the best way to stop the disease from spreading but also complaining that people didn’t want to adhere to this and therefore they were being infected by the virus.
I was obviously quite excited about this man’s positive approach to the disease and thought that I had found someone who was really living responsibly. But my excitement didn’t last long. I asked him how old he was. He’s 37. I then asked him if he was married, and he was not. But he immediately told me that he had a girlfriend and they had three children but they hadn’t come around to getting married yet. Realising that he would probably not be truthful with me I nevertheless asked him if he was faithful to his girlfriend. His answer surprised (and probably shocked) me, when he said something like: “Of course not. It’s very difficult to be faithful.” He then told me that he regularly visited a bar close to his home (the notorious “Why Not Disco Club”) where he would have some drinks after which he would find a girl (evidently prostitutes) standing around and spend the night with her. Although he always has a condom with him he would not use a condom if he went with the same girl the second or third time! (I was really amazed at his honesty.)
I then asked him if he had ever been tested for AIDS to which he replied that he had been tested three years before and he was negative then. Seeing that he was so honest with me, I decided to be honest with him as well and told him that I had bad news for him, because the chances that he was still HIV-negative are virtually non-existent! We had quite a discussion on AIDS and I eventually advised him to go for a test again. But I then asked him what he would do if he was found to be HIV-positive and he replied that he would definitely change his life-style. And when I asked what he would do if he was HIV-negative, he also said that he would change his life-style! In other words, once he had been tested, regardless of the outcome, he would change his life-style. But for the present, before being tested, he will go on with his present life-style, probably believing that he will be one of the lucky ones not to get infected.
At the end of the conversation, just before I dropped him off, I asked him whether his girlfriend was faithful to him, to which he replied that God had given him a wonderful girlfriend who didn’t sleep around with other men! (How sad that she can’t say the same about him!)
I’m still trying to figure this one out. Is it ignorance? Is it denial. Is it callousness? I don’t know, but I’m sure he is not unique. He’s one of thousands of men in Swaziland who believe that he will be the lucky one who will not get the disease. He has heard all that can be said about AIDS. He has all the right answers. But in spite of this, he still believes that he won’t become infected.
We still have a long way to go before people will really acknowledge the seriousness of this terrible disease.
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