Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Dodging the AIDS issue

A number of years ago I published an article with the title: Why are we losing the battle against AIDS? One of things I mentioned in the article was the problem of denial. In a previous post I wrote about a friend of mine who had died of AIDS. When I asked him, shortly before his death, what was wrong with him – hoping that it would create an opportunity for him to speak about his sickness – he answered that the doctor had told him that he had been working too hard in his garden and that he just needed to rest.
This same man had lost many family members: brothers, sisters, in-laws. Every time he lost another family member and we spoke about it, I asked him: “What did they die of?” And then he would answer: “You know. They died of that sickness.” It was always “that sickness” – never AIDS!
Someone published a list of euphemisms by which HIV and AIDS are known in Africa. It’s called: “AFRICA: Mind your language – a short guide to HIV/AIDS slang.” The original article was published in PlusNews but a better formatted article which reads easier was published on CABSA’s website and can be accessed here.
One of our greatest frustrations remain that it may never be said that a person has died of AIDS. I have with me three death certificates of people who had died in Swaziland. Admittedly, not all of them had AIDS, but the reasons for death which were indicated on the death certificates, were as follows:

  • Unknown, suspected swollen feet
  • Unknown, but suspect headache
  • Unknown, but suspect poisoning (this one had committed suicide by eating weevil tablets – an extremely strong poison)

Some people have the worm, others the bug. Some suffer from slim disease and others from “five plus three.” But until we start calling the sickness by its name and until we admit what caused people’s death, we will always be living in denial.
In the article mentioned above, I started by quoting from an article which was once published in a Swaziland newspaper:

Saturday night has become the night of vigils, of traditional Swazi wakes, when friends and relatives gather to feast and to mourn the deaths of young people, the cream of the nation. As the AIDS pandemic gathers pace, Swaziland has entered an endless season of mourning.
The vigils are announced publicly in death notices that fill a page, or often two pages, in the local newspapers every day. Many are accompanied by photographs which show that almost all the victims are in their twenties or early thirties. The language of the announcements is both quaint and evasive: George Shongwe is late; Zodwa Madolo, nee Diamini, died suddenly and is late, Cynthia Zwane is late. Friends and relatives are informed that the vigil will be on Saturday night, the funeral early the next morning.
There is no hint of the cause of these deaths, though everybody knows. The universal human response to AIDS is denial. It is as though nobody can face the awful reality of a calamity that rivals the great plagues of history.

Unfortunately, too many people, both in the affected countries as well as in the West are still in denial – an ideal breeding ground for this virus to grow in.

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Friday, July 25, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Death, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Mission, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology

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