So much more is known about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and it is now treated as any other chronic disease. However, the fear and ignorance surrounding it still exist and those HIV-positive individuals who are dealing with the fallout of the disease every day also have to deal with the shame of its stigma. This discrimination leads to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse. “Unfortunately stigma and misconceptions around HIV/AIDS are still prevalent in most communities in South Africa,” confirms Dr Funeka Bango, an HIV/AIDS researcher at the University of Cape Town.
The many misconceptions surrounding the disease still include that HIV/AIDS will inevitably lead to death, that the disease is contagious and that it’s the result of personal irresponsibility and thus a moral fault that deserves punishment. Some HIV-positive people are shunned by their family and friends and often their wider community, while others face poor treatment in healthcare and educational facilities, leading to emotional and psychological damage (people living with HIV are twice as likely to suffer from depression than the general population).
“Also, this has life-threatening implications as it interferes with the acceptance of HIV testing as well as adherence to treatment,” explains Dr Bango.
HIV patients need support
It is vital that HIV patients get physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual support, says Dr Bango. “The diagnosis of the disease still presents certain risks and consequences and life post-diagnosis is never quite the same for the individual,” she says.
“Even though treatment is available and they can live long and healthy lives, they still have an acute sense of the prospect of mortality. They struggle with other difficult feelings, ranging from denial to anger. It is therefore very important that they feel accepted and supported by those who are closest to them and the community at large, so that they continue to take their medication and don’t lose hope for their future.”
How to best support HIV patients
Here is Dr Bango’s advice on how to offer the best support you can to those living with the reality of their HIV-positive status:
1. Work on overcoming your own internalised misconceptions: Sometimes it’s the supporting individual or caregiver who finds it even more difficult to deal with the news than the infected individual. There is no ideal way to cope with the news that your loved one is infected with HIV. This news brings fear and worry about how the disease will affect your friends and family and the relationship you have with the infected individual. Researching the disease and getting more clarity on what to expect is key for all concerned so that you can face misperceptions and the stigma of the disease – and ultimately be an understanding, knowledgeable caregiver.
2. Ensure you offer the HIV-positive person stability: If your loved one is not acutely ill, it is important for them to continue with life as they did before to ensure that they find meaning and control over their daily life. For example, if they live with you in the same household, it is important to include them in household responsibilities and decisionmaking. If they don’t stay with you, then ensure you stay in touch with them, as well as getting their larger social circle to interact with them regularly, so that they don’t feel lonely and isolated.
3. Suggest a support group: Support groups are still the best way for HIV-positive people to share their feelings with those who are having the same experiences, so encourage your loved one to attend a support group regularly. Also, let them talk to you about their struggles with the physical and emotional aspects of the disease – just don’t feel you have to resolve everything for them, listening and just being there for them is key here.
4. Take care of yourself: To be a solid support, it’s vital that you take care of your own emotional and psychological wellbeing. Speak to family and friends openly or find a support group (even online) or therapist to help you deal with the reality of your loved one’s battle.
How Clicks Clinics can help you
Did you know Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at their clinics? To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics online.
HIV home test kits are also available for purchase in-store.
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Don't be caught unawares – rather stock up on condoms here so that you can ensure you're practising safe sex at all times.
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