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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

HIV/AIDS: Dare to Care

When I was a senior high student, I was still somehow like everybody else, who was very much terrified of HIV/AIDS. I would assume that being a sufferer of the syndrome was the unluckiest thing in the world. It turned out a little different, though. Scary still, but influenza is also scary as there is no cure for it yet. What makes it worse is the label (we?) put on people with HIV/AIDS—that they are a disgrace to the human race, and getting close to them means digging our own grave.

I would say that the only way the society can survive from this illness is by treating HIV/AIDS just as other contagious diseases. Handle with care, yes, but no need to be overly intimidated. You will not be infected unless you exchange original body liquid, such as blood or genital discharge. Other than that is fine. You can even eat and drink from the plate and glass they have used. And it’s okay to wash their clothes, their dishes, or even hug and kiss them. The exchange of body liquid can only happen in these situations: blood transfer, vaginal intercourse, delivering babies, injection with unhygienic needles, or any condition in which your exposed internal organs gets the chance to come into contact with the body liquid (be careful if you have wounds or scars).

Psychologically, do not burden victims of HIV/AIDS with our one-sided prejudice. Maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe it’s because of a contaminated blood transfer or reckless medical officers. Some perhaps were infected through vaginal intercourse, but that doesn’t mean they once led an unhealthy sexual life. Rapes or legal marital sex could be one of the causes. (Drug addicts are also prone to HIV/AIDS. But somehow we see them as a little more normal or okay than people with HIV/AIDS.)

Then again, those who suffer from HIV/AIDS seem to count their life down. But don’t we all? Death is something no one can predict. Nobody can guarantee that living certain kinds of life will delay death.

The difference is the situation in which we live. Some live a happy-go-lucky life and appear to have all the good things in the world. While some others, like people with HIV/AIDS, have to live extra carefully, and perhaps cope with pains in the end. It’s all a matter of the part we play. And we don’t have the privilege to change roles or protest God over the script given to us. It’s easier said than done, but once we keep in mind that everything happens for a good reason, the rest (hopefully) would be relatively undemanding.

If all of us can think positively and behave properly, success is just an action away. Preventing people from being infected is more or less like preventing them from smoking. It’s hard to give up the bad habits before you know the actual consequences. What I’m trying to say is that we have to bring people from HIV/AIDS to the surface. Not for humiliating or isolating them, but for letting them share what they’ve been through and remind people to keep a healthy lifestyle (in any way).

I believe there are two benefits from achieving the situation in which people with HIV/AIDS are no longer afraid of being exposed. First, it would be easy to look after them, to give them special hospitals (where all are aware that they are handling people with HIV/AIDS and thus act as appropriate), and to manage their life (supply them with condoms, sterilized needles if needed, etc). Second, people would have a first-hand experience of those who actually live with HIV/AIDS. Even second-hand experience of drug addicts is disturbing enough.

The key to achieve the desirable results and benefits is just one: consider HIV/AIDS as other infectious viruses, no more no less. This means no unfairness. It’s time to open our heart and mind that giving those people the cold shoulder doesn’t solve any problem at all.

“If we treat them nicely, how would you guarantee that the number of people with HIV/AIDS would not increase?”

There is no guarantee. But I believe that suffering from the disease is way different than having a homosexual orientation (if we endorse homosexual living, yes, the number of homosexual practices may increase), although homosexuals are at risk of being infected as well. First of all, the basis of the endorsement is different. When we approve homosexual practices, it’s probably because we don’t see anything wrong with it, or we don’t think it’s harmful to the society. But supporting people with HIV/AIDS doesn’t work that way. We support them not because HIV/AIDS is not harmful, but because we know that letting them live deserted might build an iceberg of hidden problems. Second of all, homosexual practices are mostly seen as “healthy” since we seldom see anyone get sick or die by being a homosexual (unless if they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS), while HIV/AIDS seems to be the end of the world.

Am I saying that people suffer from HIV/AIDS should be specially treated, like, say, an alien? Specially treated, yes. But in a positive way, with no negative discrimination. I think they can understand if their partner refuse to have children with them, just as we would feel okay to stay away from babies if we caught cold. But burning their bed, having them locked up in a room for the rest of their life, refusing to live in the same house with them, or seeing them as a not-worthy human, is something almost irrational to do.

So how can we make people act supportively to prevent HIV/AIDS? There’s nothing better to do than increasing their awareness. This can be done in many ways, and need many brave people, including those who suffer from the disease. During seminars, workshops, or talk shows, it would be better to also invite real people infected by HIV/AIDS. And we have to meticulously track any news or information regarding HIV/AIDS to avoid the distribution of misleading facts and opinions to the wider society. This is why, I think, people who needs to be well-educated about this disease—besides those who at risk of being infected—is those who work closely to the mass media or people’s key-informant.

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