AIDS Fight Needs Open Approach

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK If the Ministry of Education wants to make a difference in the AIDS death toll among Namibian teachers, it is imperative that the right and appropriate programmes aimed at neutralising the stigma surrounding the disease are timely implemented. This is the view of an HIV-carrier, positive for a number of years, Peter Adams, a South African who on Friday addressed a four-day workshop on AIDS in the Workplace, in the capital. Some twenty senior managers in the Ministry of Education attended the workshop. “Teachers are by and large hesitant and even afraid to go for HIV/AIDS tests because of the stigma attached to it. They are afraid of losing their jobs, a natural reaction. I was shouldered and pushed out of my marketing job at a big South African company after I made my status known. I was considered not to be the right image for the company,” Adams openly shared his experiences with the workshop participants. In his opinion HIV/AIDS is a normal disease, which he contracted in 1991 after he was admitted to hospital with another ailment. “People are more worried about with whom an HIV/AIDS victim slept than with the consequences of the illness itself. When I as a white person tested positive, it was generally accepted that I was gay and started the stigma I still live with. HIV/AIDS is getting a grip and hold on nations because we never speak about sex openly. Hence the fact that almost 30% of the Namibian population is infected,” Adams said. All infected persons hope that nobody else will find out their status because most people are too scared to admit it to themselves because of the stigma. “People just don’t want to be tested. Everyone has their pride. What is needed is a mindset change instead of forcing unworkable programs in the workplace. Wrong designed programmes that are being imposed can cause more harm than good in the workplace,” Adams warned. In his view HIV/AIDS is viewed negatively by most people as punishment for immoral sexual behaviour. “Many people see AIDS as a crime due to immoral behaviour. Many people don’t even know they have the illness. There also exists a perspective that HIV/AIDS is a horror causing fear among people due to wrong religious beliefs about sex. If you want Namibian teachers to live longer you need to design the right programmes and implement them without delay. Forget about your personal feelings about the illness when promoting safe sex in the workplace or anywhere else”. It became known at the workshop through the Namibia National Teachers Union that up to 15 teachers per trimester die from HIV/AIDS. The Head of the National AIDS Control Organization, Abner Xoagub encouraged the participants to properly implement the Ministry of Education’s sound programmes to help curtail the death toll among teachers.