AIDS: What do I need to know
Outline: Three discussions regarding AIDS and the impact on lives.
|भाषा:||English: Southern Africa|
John: What is all this talk about AIDS, AIDS, AIDS? You hear it on the radio; you see pictures about it in clinics and in schools.
Anna: Oh, don’t worry about it, that’s just some kind of sickness that affects people in big towns like Bulawayo, Blantyre and Cape Town (alternative/local names should be used when translating and recording) and those kinds of places. You know, there’s a lot of bad living. It’s not here in our villages.
John: Oh, that is a relief to know. I was beginning to worry. I hear these days, it is so bad that if you get it, you will die. I don’t want to die.
Man 1: John, Anna, you are wrong. AIDS is not only a sickness of big towns. It is also affecting the people in villages.
John, Anna (in unison with each other): What, what do you mean?
Man 1: Come on, sit down and let’s talk. I think you need me to explain what AIDS is. Lots of people don’t really understand it. That is why I’m going to tell you.
John: Please, what is AIDS? Why are people talking about it so much?
Man 1: Well, first of all, AIDS comes from HIV.
Anna: HIV, what is HIV?
Man 1: Well HIV is a sickness or virus. Small, so small, that no one can see it with their eyes. It is only when an HIV test is done at your hospital or clinic, that one will know if you have HIV or not. In most cases a simple finger-prick test is used to see if one has HIV or not. HIV stands for “Human Immune Deficiency Virus”. But the short name is “HIV”. And if you do not get medication for the HIV then after some time, you will get AIDS.
Ha, I can see you are interested. Let me explain, come, let us sit down. First, let me answer your questions. What is HIV? Well, HIV is a virus that is passed from one person to another. It is passed on through the body fluids of an infected person. Yes, I can see you are worried about this. Not all body fluids can pass on HIV! The body fluids that are dangerous are blood, men’s semen, women’s vaginal fluid and breast milk.
There is no cure for HIV infection, so once you are infected there is no medication that can remove the HIV from your body.
John: But what does this mean? Is there no hope when it comes to HIV and AIDS?
Man 1: No John, certainly there is hope, and this is why we need to talk about it! I know we people do not like talking about private things, but when it comes to life or death, we must talk about it. We should not hide these things.
You know Anna, you thought AIDS was only affecting people in the big towns. You are wrong. It is everywhere in the world. Anyone can get HIV. It is affecting everyone: the rich, the poor, young people, and grown-ups, everyone, and that is why it is a serious matter. People think they can never get HIV or AIDS, but they are wrong.
People also like to think that HIV happens only to people with loose morals; but even this is not the truth. HIV can happen to anybody who has unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status you do not know.
Now both of you look confused! Let me rather start from the beginning. And let’s take a closer look at HIV and what it does to our bodies. As I already mentioned, HIV is a virus. And this virus weakens the immune system of our bodies.
John: What is the immune system?
Man 1: I can explain it in a very simple way. In the past, even now, some of our tribes have their warriors to protect their tribes from other attacking tribes. Our warriors are very brave and strong men.
John: Oh, that’s good. And when the enemy tribe comes to attack, who are the first to go find them?
Anna: Our brave warriors!
Man 1: Right, they are the first ones to meet the enemy. But, when all of the warriors are killed, there is no one to protect the villages. Well, when HIV attacks a person’s body, the first thing it does is to kill off the warriors in a person’s body. God made our bodies in such a way that we have certain cells. They are white blood cells and their task is to protect our bodies from infections and diseases. Let’s call these cells ‘body warriors’. They attack any sickness that we may pick up. Examples of such sicknesses are diarrhea, malaria, flu, TB, etc. But if our body warriors are weak or only a few, what happens is we have very little protection against these diseases. We will become ill with different diseases much easier. If our body’s defense is weak and we become ill with many diseases, we call this AIDS. Yes, only then do we get AIDS. What does this mean? Well, AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Yes, these are big words, I know! What it means is that because my body warriors are few and weak, I have become sick with a collection of different diseases. This collection we call AIDS. If we do not get access to HIV medication, we will die from these sicknesses.
John: But can the doctors give you some kind of injection or tablets? I know the medicine man also has some very powerful medicines.
Man 1: No John, there is no medicine or injection that can cure HIV. But there is medication that can help us to live longer with the virus. You look a bit confused, let me explain. Some medicines can cure or take a disease away. Other medicines cannot take an illness away, but it can help me to live a better life with the condition. This is also true of HIV. There is no medicine to take it away from my body, but there are medicines that can help me to live a fairly normal and healthy life even though I have the virus in my body.
HIV is not the only disease that cannot be cured. Think of diabetes and high blood pressure. These are examples of other medical conditions that doctors cannot cure; but if a person uses the right medicine then they can still live fairly normal lives.
Anna: Tell me more about this medicine for HIV!
Man 1: We call this medicine antiretrovirals. Yes, it is another big word, the short name is ARVs. There are a variety of different ARVs and they all work together to reduce the damage that HIV does to my body’s warriors. And it keeps the virus from multiplying (getting more and more) in my body.
Anna: So the medicine helps a person to stay healthy, even though the virus is inside your body?
Man 1: Yes Anna, that is right!
John: This sounds like good news!
Man 1: Yes, it is good news and we can talk more about this another time. But let’s just get back to another very important question: How do we get HIV? There are several ways.
John: Are there?
Man 1: I want you to remember them well, so that you can also tell other people. The most common way to get HIV is through having sex with someone, who already has HIV.
Anna/John: Mm Mm
Man 1: It could only take one time of having sex with someone who has HIV to also get it.
Anna: Mm Mm
Man 1: But the more boys or girls, men or women, you have sex with, the more chances there are that you will get HIV.
Also, you can get HIV through blood; for example, if you have a cut on your hand, and if your friend who has HIV gets a cut, and his or her blood gets on your cut skin, you could also get HIV. Or if you go to the clinic for an injection and that needle was not fully sterilized or boiled, and if the person who used the needle before you had HIV, you could also get HIV.
Anna: Mm Mm
Man 1: You women, when you get your ears pierced, make sure that the needles have not been used before by another person, or make sure those needles are boiled for a long time first.
Man 1: Or during circumcision ceremonies, if someone has HIV in his blood, and the knife is not properly sterilized or boiled, then the next person could get HIV. If you go to hospital, and they want to give you extra blood, make sure to ask them if the blood is safe. Remember, I said that HIV lives in the blood, semen and vaginal fluids.
Anna: But I have also heard about babies and small children with HIV. How do you explain this?
Man 1: A woman who has HIV can also pass the virus to her unborn baby before birth or after the birth.
Man 1: Sometimes, babies can get the virus through the mothers’ milk, if the mother has HIV. Or during birth when the baby comes into contact with the blood of the mother.
Man 1: Yes, it is true… OK, let’s review. John, tell me two ways you can get HIV, and Anna, tell me two ways.
John: Umm, you get HIV, when you have sex with someone who already has HIV. Umm, and you get HIV through blood.
Man 1: Good, John, but explain more about how you get HIV through the blood.
John: Well, you said that if you use a needle or any knife that has not been sterilized or boiled properly, and if that needle or knife was just used on someone, who had HIV, then you, could also get HIV.
Man 1: Correct, and remember if some blood that has HIV, gets onto any open cut on your body, you have a chance of getting HIV from the person’s blood. So, any medical worker and other people who work with sick people should make sure they wear rubber gloves, or even put a good plastic bag that has been properly sterilized on their hands, and they should make sure they change their gloves, every time they treat another patient.
John: Hmm hmm.
Man 1: They should not use the same needle, knives or gloves for more than one patient.
John: Now I know.
Man 1: Good! Now, Anna, tell me two other ways a person can get HIV.
Anna: Well, if a mother has HIV, it can be passed to the baby.
Man 1: That’s right Anna, and therefore ALL pregnant women are encouraged to be tested for HIV.
Anna: Yes, but what if a women finds out she has HIV, what then?
Man 1: Well, fortunately, this medicine, the ARVs that we just spoke about, can also help to protect the baby from HIV infection while it is still in the mother’s womb. That is why we say that all pregnant women should be tested at the beginning of the pregnancy – and again later in the pregnancy. Because if the mother happens to have HIV, then she will get the medication that will not only make her own body cope better with the HIV, but it will also reduce the chances of passing the virus to her baby.
Anna: Yes, that makes sense. But you also said that it is possible for the virus to be passed on to the baby through breast feeding. So doesn’t this mean there is still a risk?
Man 1: Good, you have both remembered well. Yes, Anna, I did say so. But remember the mother will continue to use this ARVs for the rest of her life and this means the medicine will make the virus in her body weak. And to make double sure, you know it is prescribed to also give some of this medicine to the babies for as long as the mother breastfeeds. So it really is still possible to protect the babies of mothers with HIV. But it is very important for the mother to be tested during the pregnancy, because this protection is only available for people who know that they have HIV.
Also remember, you cannot get HIV just by ordinary playing or socialization with anyone who has HIV. You cannot get HIV through sharing the same food or water, or dishes…
Man 1: (continuation of previous sentence); -…or by sharing the same toilets, clothing, through hugging or kissing, through mosquitoes or other insects. You cannot get HIV through these things.
John: That’s good too.
Man 2: What kind or type of people can give you HIV then?
Man 1: That is a good question. Do you still remember what I said earlier? Any person who has unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status you do not know, could be at risk to get infected. Even if you are married to that person, if you do not know his or her HIV status, you might be at risk!
Man 2/3/4: Yo!
Man 1: A husband may go away on business and have sex with a sex worker who has HIV. He may get infected with HIV without even knowing it. What if he gets home and pass HIV to his wife? And what if she is pregnant and pass it to their baby?
Anna: No! No! No!
Man 1: So the question should not be “what kind of person gets HIV?” The question should be: Do I know my own HIV status? Have I been tested recently? And, do I know the HIV status of my partner?
If I am infected with HIV, I can pass the virus to other people even if I do not know that I have it myself. That is why we have to be tested for HIV regularly. And we must encourage other people to also be tested. By knowing your status, you can protect yourself and the people you love.
Anna: Mm Mm
Man 1: Perhaps this is enough new information for one day! Just remember, HIV is passed on through contact with blood, a man’s semen or a woman’s vaginal fluids and breast milk. A pregnant woman who has HIV can pass the virus to her unborn baby during the pregnancy, the birth process or after birth, through breastfeeding.
Anna: Yes, but if the mother is taking ARVs then the baby can be protected!
Man 1: That is true and we are grateful for the miracle of this medicine. We know it doesn’t take the HIV away, but it can give life and health back to people who are living with HIV, AND it can protect others from getting infected.
John: Mm Mm
James is a carpenter in a small town. His wife and two daughters live in a village. He rarely goes home during his holidays or weekends. During these times, he spends many hours with his girlfriend in bars (and shebeens). One day, James met his former class mate, Shedrich.
(From Video/DVD/ Live act, Scenario from South Africa/Other Place) – See conversation below.
Shedrich: How have you been for many days?
James: Oh fine, fine.
Shedrich: How have you been since you left school?
James: Oh, I started my own business in carpentry here. It is just beginning to really grow, so I’m feeling very happy. You know, these days we need money.
Shedrich: It must be nice for you because you are closer to your home village now. It was good for you to start your business here. You can go home every weekend now and visit the family.
James: Well, I must admit, I don’t go home very often. In fact, I have found the life here in town much more exciting than in the village. So, I usually stay here weekends and holidays and enjoy myself in bars (or shebeens). Some of our other class mates are also here. And you know there are quite a number of women to have fun with.
Shedrich: You mean, you started cheating on your wife and moving around with other women? That is very dangerous James.
Shedrich (talking to audience publically, to James, and/or through Video/DVD): My relationship with my wife really suffered when I was moving around with other women. That was before I took this whole issue of AIDS seriously, and I really saw the effects it could have on my family.
James: You mean, you have gone through this experience? I always thought of you as a good, straight guy, and church goer.
Shedrich: Yes, James, for a while my relationship with my family was getting quite bad. I stayed in the town and didn’t go home very often, because of transport costs. And my wife is always asking for money, you know. I became lonely so I spent a lot of time with other women.
James/another man: Mm
Shedrich: Before I knew it, I was spending most of my salary on women in the bars (shebeens).
Shedrich: But, one day I went home, and something happened, that I will never forget.
James and another man in unison: Yeah
Man 3: Oh!
James: What happened?
Shedrich: It’s a long story, but after listening well, you may also benefit from it.
James: Well, go on; tell me.
Shedrich: Well, I went home one weekend after being away for 4 months. I expected everything would be okay because I had not received any bad news. You know, we say that ‘no news is good news?’
James/other man: Mmm
Shedrich: Well I was surprised. I got home Friday night and found my wife and children quite well. We ate supper together, but it just didn’t seem the same. There was little talk going on, and I just did not receive the same welcome as I normally do from my wife.
Shedrich: I also felt quite guilty about my behavior in the town, but I told myself that I was lonely and needed these lady friends.
James: So, what was the problem? Did your wife ever tell you?
Shedrich: Well, the following day, I was drinking tea and my father came with several of the elders of the village. After greeting me, my father asked if he could talk. I was not sure what to expect, but I knew it must be serious if my father came with the village elders.
James: So, what did they say?
Shedrich: My father and the elders had come to tell me that my wife was moving around with a very prominent person of the area.
Shedrich: I couldn’t believe it. At first, I thought I was hearing the wrong thing. There was my father and several elders telling me that my wife had a relationship with another man. I didn’t know how to respond.
James: You mean you didn’t know anything about it.
Shedrich: No! And I had no way of knowing, because I was never at home. At first, I was very angry, I wanted to go and beat my wife, but I knew it would not really help if I did that. So, I decided to try to talk to her first. I told my father and the elders what I was going to do. After they left, I went into the house. I found my wife sweeping. I didn’t know how I would begin to talk to her. She asked me what the men wanted, but I just told her “nothing”. I knew I had to talk to her. I also knew I could not ignore the fact that I’d also been moving around with other women, because I was lonely. So, I asked if we could talk in the bedroom.
James: You mean, you didn’t slap her or anything? If my wife did this to me, I would beat her so badly, that she would never do it again.
Shedrich: No, James, you must realise that women have feelings like men.
James: Ahh, hmmm.
Shedrich: That’s important for us to know.
James: Is it?
Shedrich: Our wives get lonely at home. They want someone to care for them. They need financial help and they really want someone to take the responsibility in the home. But I was never there, I didn’t even want to come home on weekends or holidays.
James: Is that what your wife told you?
Shedrich: Yes! And I respected what she had to say. It hurt to hear that. I felt like I failed as a man, as a husband and as a father. I was also guilty of not being faithful to my wife. The thought kept coming to my mind: “What if one of us had AIDS?” So I brought up the issue.
James: You discussed all those things with her?
Shedrich: Yes! I felt that if this problem was to be solved, we had to understand and forgive each other.
Shedrich: We had to know the consequences we might have to face in the future, because of our behavior. But let me tell you, James: That was the most helpful thing to strengthen our relationship. I felt like we could now share with each other. I promised I would try to come home often, and she promised to leave this man.
James: But Shedrich, didn’t you feel like she was trying to boss (over) you around?
Shedrich: No! I think, that’s where we fail as men. We always feel like it’s our right to do anything we want to.
James: Hmm hmm.
Shedrich: We think we don’t have to explain to our wives.
James: Oh, I see. That’s wrong.
Shedrich: That’s wrong! Women need to understand men, just as much as men need to understand women.
James: I see.
Shedrich: Some questions we need to ask ourselves:
• Why do we behave the way we do?
• Why are we unfaithful?
• What are some of the things we need to do or change to have a good relationship with our wives, or husbands?
James: You have really challenged me. I guess our concern should not be just the short-term pleasure, but the long-term consequences like you said.
James: Thanks friend.
Anna: Tell me, suppose I get HIV, what will it do to me?
Man 1: Ah, that’s a good question. At first, you may not know that you have HIV.
Man 1: Yes, Anna, in the beginning you feel fine and healthy. And that is why I said before that it is so important for us to get tested for HIV. It is the only way to know if we have HIV or not.
Anna: Yes, I remember.
Man 1: As our body’s defense cells become weaker, we may get sick more often or easier with what we call opportunistic infections, such as malaria, diarrhea, skin rashes, flu or TB.
Man 1: But do not think that every time you have malaria, diarrhea, skin rashes, or flu that you have HIV. Have it checked out by a doctor, do not be afraid to have it checked. And remember, if you are worried about your HIV status, then be tested for HIV. Don't wait for all these symptoms to show.
John: I have a question, but I’m a little embarrassed to ask it.
Man 1: Go ahead, do not feel embarrassed.
John: Is there such a thing as ‘safe sex?’ I hear about these condoms, that if you use them, then you wouldn’t get HIV.
Man 1: Good question, John. At this stage the condom is still the best protection we have to protect us from HIV infection. I know many people feel uncomfortable to even talk about condoms and more so about using it. But we have to talk about it.
I am not saying that condoms are 100% safe, but you know, John. Very few things in life are 100%. Wearing a seatbelt in the taxi does not give a guarantee that I will not get hurt if the taxi is in an accident. But I am much safer with the seatbelt on than without it. Therefore we are instructed by law to use seatbelts in cars and taxis.
When a condom is used every time I have sex and I take care to use it correctly then it does offer a great deal of protection. So you can see that we have to encourage people to use the condom. Even though it isn’t exactly 100% safe, it is much, much safer than having unprotected sex. Especially if we do not know the HIV status of our partner.
John: Are you saying everyone should use condoms? Even married people? And people of faith?
Man 1: John, I understand where your question comes from, but remember, HIV doesn’t care if you are a Christian or not, or if you are married or not. If it gets a chance to get into your bloodstream it will take it.
Man 1: Yes, and that is why I have been saying, any person who has sex with a partner whose HIV status you do not know, could be at risk of getting infected with HIV. Therefore, if you do not know the HIV status of your sex partner, then you have to wear condoms to protect yourself.
John: Even if I am married to my sexual partner?
Man 1: That is correct. And also, if you do not know your own HIV status, then you also have the responsibility to use a condom in order to protect your partner from possible infection.
Man 1: The only completely safe sexual intercourse is between two people who have both been tested for HIV, both tested HIV negative and both are completely faithful to each other.
John: I see.
Anna: So tell us, how can we avoid getting HIV?
Man 1: First of all, do not have pre-marital sex. Be strong and say ‘No!’ to sex outside marriage.
Man 1: If you are married, you should only have sex with your partner. Remember, it could only take one time of having sex with someone other than your partner, to get HIV. But the more times you have sex with other people, then the more chances you have of getting HIV. And off course, if you are married and you have HIV, then it is important to take care to always use a condom correctly when you are having sex.
John: But what if my partner already has HIV?
Man1: That is why I said it is important to also know the status of your partner, remember?
John: Yes, I remember.
Man 1: If either you or your partner already has HIV, then at least you will know to take precautions and use condoms. In that way you will be protecting each other from getting HIV. Remember to use a condom every time you have sex, and to use it correctly. And also, if you know you have HIV then you should also find out where to get ARVs (antiretrovirals) in your area.
Man 1: Secondly, ask about the safety of blood products if you or a family member may need a blood transfusion. Thirdly, if you are sick, get proper medical treatment for your conditions and make sure that the practitioner uses sterilized equipment. Does this make sense to you?
John and Anna: Mm… Yes.
Man 1: Fourthly, do not share any sharp instruments, such as razor blades, a needle, or toothbrush.
Man 1: Fifthly, if you are helping or treating someone who is bleeding, make sure, if you have any cuts and wounds, that those are covered well with waterproof plaster. If you do not have plasters, use a clean cloth to cover the cuts and wounds. Sixthly, if a woman is pregnant, she must be tested for HIV.
Anna: O yes, I remember! But tell me, pregnancy is a long time. Is it enough to be tested only once during your pregnancy? What if a woman gets infected with HIV during the pregnancy?
Man 1: This is another good question! You are right Anna. It is advisable for a women to be tested for HIV as soon as she knows she’s pregnant (books her pregnancy), but then to be tested again a few months later to make sure about her HIV status. And remember we said, there is medicine available that will improve the health of the pregnant woman and it will reduce the risk of HIV being passed on to the baby! But to get this medicine, these ARVs, we first need to know if the women has HIV. And that is why testing of pregnant women is so important.
John: I understand this. I have learnt a lot about HIV and AIDS.
Anna: Mm… yes, me too.
John: But, what you are telling us, for example, not to have sex outside of marriage, (it) is very hard. You know some of our cultures even encourage us to have sex to make sure that we are fertile. Are we to say “No!” to our culture?
Man 1: That is a very important question. A man is a man, and we think that men have certain feelings which cannot be denied. Am I right?
John: Right, God made us men this way, so why should we go against these feelings?
Man 1: I guess the most important thing is for us to seek to have control over our bodies and feelings. In Hebrews chapter 12, verse 11, we read: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace, for those who have been trained by it.”
We need to remind ourselves that we are not merely controlled by our different urges, but we also have the ability to take control, and to practice self-discipline in different areas of our lives. This is not to say we have to deny all urges, but to find ways in which to express them in a healthy and responsible way.
John: Yeah! (Yes, if you prefer a real word).
Man 1: For example, when you get so very, very angry at a friend, the first thing you want to do is to beat him up. But you do not give in to that angry feeling; you stop for a minute to think. What if I hurt my friend? What If I am arrested for assault? Do I really want to be in jail about this matter? Instead you choose to cool off. When you feel angry, you must concentrate on controlling your actions. In the same way when I have sexual feelings, I should also pause and remind myself that I am a responsible person who respects other people. I will not only think about the short-term pleasure, but also about the longer-term consequences of engaging in casual sex.
I know it is not always easy, but we can make decisions and are not merely controlled by our emotions and urges.
John: It is true.
Man 1: But let’s talk about the cultural question you brought up. Culture was meant to preserve and protect what we value. And as long as our cultural practices uphold principles such as respect and responsibility then it will protect us and it is good. But we also need to be aware and critical enough today to recognize that not all cultural practices are necessarily good anymore. And we can also measure cultural practices up against God’s law.
John, Anna: Mmm!
Man 1: There are many verses in the Bible that urge us to be responsible, also when it comes to sexual behavior. These verses are important and they guide our behavior. However, when it comes to HIV infection, we must be very careful that we don’t link HIV infection only with immoral behavior.
The truth is that many Christians are also living with HIV. Some got infected before they came to Christ and others got infected as Christians. Some were born with HIV. Some people got infected through irresponsible sexual behavior and others through ignorance. Some got infected because they trusted the word of another. And even more disturbing is the high levels of sexual violence that especially women and children experience these days. Abuse make many women very vulnerable. And rape can also lead to HIV infection.
Man 1: So yes, in as much as we can take responsibility for our sexual desires, we should commit to live responsibly towards others, and seek to discipline ourselves in this area. But we should never assume that all people with HIV were infected through sexual immorality. And we should be sensitive to the fact that not everybody has the power to protect themselves from an abusive partner or spouse or other person.
John: Yeah, that’s sad.
Man 1: And in many cases, these are private matters, so we wouldn’t even know how people got infected or not. This is not really our business. When we look at the Bible then we are encouraged, in Luke 6:36-37, to:
“36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Anna: Mmm, true.
Man 1: Yes, the Bible teaches us that judgment belongs to God, not us. What God does expect of us, though, is to love one another. In Matthew 22, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, we read in verses 37-38:
37 Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Man 1: In the context of HIV, a conversation that focuses on sin is not really helpful. What we need to understand and (what we need to) talk about is, what makes people vulnerable to HIV infection? And the answer is not always related to sexual sin.
Because we are human beings we usually desire connection with other human beings. This need to belong with or connect to another human being can make us more vulnerable to the sexual advances of others.
People are vulnerable because we often need and desire love and intimacy with (from) another person. This need is not a sin, but is part of being human. Our challenge is how to acknowledge this need without falling into the trap of abusive relationships or being used or lied to.
John: Yeah, it’s true.
Anna: But then what should we do? How can we protect ourselves?
John: Yes, and how do we support our friends and family who are already living with HIV?
Man 1: You are both asking very good questions. Let’s first look at Anna’s question.
Let’s remind ourselves again, it is important to know your own HIV status. It is equally important to know the HIV status of your partner. When it comes to sexual feelings, it is good to understand that, as human beings, we have sexual feelings. Sex was created by God and can be very special between two people. But keep in mind that sex is safest within a faithful relationship where people trust and respect each other and who both have been tested.
And also keep in mind that we are not ONLY sexual beings!
Man 1: Remember that although we as Christians value marriage, marriage itself is not protection against HIV infection. Not all marriages are safe places where partners are valued and respected. I will say it again (sorry for repeating it so many times) but anyone who has unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status you do not know, is at risk of infection.
So even if you are married, but you do not know the HIV status of your partner, you might be at risk. And if your spouse is abusive, manipulative or disrespectful to you, make sure that you get tested and try to introduce condoms in your relationship.
Anna: Oh, but this is a very difficult thing for a woman!
Man 1: I know Anna, I know! This is part of what make so many women vulnerable to infection. But at least we can try and (to) help them to understand the risk and encourage them to try and (to) use condoms. And depending on the level of abuse, a woman might even need more help to secure her safety.
But perhaps we can all just start by talking more openly about these private matters. Maybe we should first just encourage people to take the risk to (and) talk more openly about sex, intimacy and relationships, what we need from each other, and what we value in a relationship.
By talking more, we can help each other to become more comfortable with this uncomfortable topic! We can even change the negative feelings people have about condoms. So you see, we have to break the silence about sex and HIV!
And while we do so, we can also encourage one another to recognize and avoid situations that may put us into temptation.
John: That makes sense.
Man 1: I know many people seem to have sex without thinking about it. But the presence of HIV compels us as people of faith to remind ourselves to be responsible and to treat ourselves and other people with dignity and respect. Not only as sexual objects.
Anna and John: Mmm
Man 1: But let’s come back to John’s question, what if I am already living with HIV? Or how can I support someone who is already living with HIV?
I think many of us have buried family, friends or colleagues who have already died of AIDS-related diseases. Maybe we can still recall how weak they were and how HIV sucked the life out of them. Not that we really want to be reminded of this sadness.
Anna: No, I do not want to think about it too much.
Man 1: But today much has changed. And today we are very grateful for the miracle of HIV medication.
John: What is the medicine called again?
Anna: It is antiretrovirals or ARVs.
John: Ah, now I remember.
Man 1: Yes, and although HIV is still a deadly disease this medication can help us to stay healthy for very long and it can reduce the chances of passing HIV to another person. The sooner we start using the medication, the less damage HIV can do to my body’s defense system.
Anna: But where do we get this medicine?
Man 1: Anna, this is not the same in every country, but in many countries we get the medicine through our public health facilities or clinics. Where HIV testing is done, you could ask the service provider or health practitioner about the availability of ARVs and the criteria for getting it.
More and more countries move to what we call “Test and Treat’. You look a bit confused; let me explain.
In the past you could have HIV, but you only got the ARVs when your body was very, very weak. In recent years scientists have discovered that it is better to start with ARVs as soon as possible. “Test and Treat” was introduced. It means that people qualify for ARVs as soon as they have discovered that they have HIV. So you don’t have to wait while HIV damages your body. No, you can start the medication very soon after you have tested positive for HIV.
Anna: This sound like good news?
Man 1: Yes, it is. So, if a friend of yours is HIV positive, ask him or her about ARVs, and encourage him or her to use the medication regularly.
But even more important than the medication, is that your friend will really experience love and acceptance from you. Let your friend know that he or she is still loved and that he or she can still count on your friendship and support. Also remind your friend that Jesus loves all of us unconditionally.
Anna: Oh/Ah, yes, that is a wonderful assurance.
John: Yes, but what if I get HIV from my friend?
Man1: John, you did not listen to me carefully. I said, you cannot get HIV by just spending time with someone who has it.
John and Anna in unison: Yeah/Yes
Man 1: So, talk to that friend, spend time with him or her. Encourage them to continue to spend time with the people they care for, to continue to work and to continue to do the things they used to like. Maybe he is a soccer player, or a big sports fan, maybe he is a Sunday school teacher. Remind them that this life is not over. That they can still live this life. And of course, remind them of God’s love and encourage them to continue to walk with God.
Man 1: Let us be open and honest with one another about this important topic. Let us break this deadly silence by sharing the facts, and talking the truth with a compassionate, non-judgmental heart, because we love our God and we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Anna and John: Amen! Hmm hmm
John: Thank you so much for sharing this with us.