South Africa! What a journey it has been. Look, let’s put aside corruption, load shedding and the loss of Generations, South Africa is one hell of a place to be!
And for members of the LGBTIQ+ community, life has never been sweeter than this. We have the freedom to walk down the road, hand in hand, we are free to spend our lives with the person of our choosing and with the advent of ARV’s and the myriad of treatments out there, HIV/AIDS, once known as “The Gay Flu”, is no longer a death sentence, but a life sentence.
Most recently in our story came the development of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylactic), the wonder drug that was able to prevent you from getting an illness which, to the minds of many, still means death. And with Sub-Saharan Africa providing the overwhelming proof that HIV/AIDS is not only a LGBTIQ+ issue, the time is now to arm ourselves with information.
In the LGBTQI+ community we are acutely aware of things like PrEP, but I wondered if anyone had told the breeders. I decided to venture outside my little gay bubble and find out if the man on the street knows the ins and outs of the options available to us where HIV/AIDS is concerned and whether they are PrEP-ared. For me, the man on the street were the people in Cresta shopping centre – don’t judge me, they have a Chateaux Gateau and a Typo Store. Two birds, one pill (as it were). The responses I got to three standard questions were illuminating.
Do you know what PrEP is?/What do you think PrEP is?
This seemed like a good place to start. At gay bars I’m surprised you don’t get a PrEP smoothie these days, that’s how common-place it has become. The average person that I spoke to did not know exactly what it was but knew that it was some kind of medication. One woman got very chatty when I explained to her what it was and said “It’s a shame that the people who need something like that the most probably can’t afford it” What has become comforting to know is that contrary to popular belief PrEP drugs like Truvada or Adco Emtevir are not as expensive as you may think and are available for free from many sources if you are prepared to undergo regular consultations. Perhaps my favorite response was a lady telling me that her husband used PrEP when he shaved to prevent ingrown hairs (That is really the name of the ointment).
Does the word undetectable mean anything to you?
Only one person in perhaps a hundred knew what it meant to be undetectable…sort of. She thought it was like when you had cancer but went into remission, but with HIV/AIDS. What is undetectable mean? The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation describes it as follows: “An HIV-positive person who maintains an undetectable viral load with the aid of regular, successful treatment cannot transmit HIV sexually.” Long story short, if it can’t be detected, it can’t be transmitted. This is massive news! Life changing! But what does it mean? It means that the spread of the virus has practically been nipped in the bud, combined with the use of PreEP, the life of the virus now has its days numbered in society.
How informed do you think you are about HIV?
One of the most frequent responses I received on this question, was possibly the most alarming of the three. “Oh no, I’m married”. Well I mean that’s nice to hear, Brenda, but unless your ring is made from latex and fits over hubby’s penis at night, that’s fairly irrelevant. It is evident from many of the responses that people are still scared, and rightly so. Responses like, “I know you can’t get it from sharing a toilet or a coffee cup or stuff like that”, indicates that Sharon in Accounts has done some research to make sure she is safe from those around her. And she’s not wrong.
But there is a bigger conversation that needs to happen in South Africa. I challenge you to bring up these questions with your friends, regardless of their sexual orientation. Educate each other. The average person can tell you a few tips to remain safe at an ATM, or how to avoid being pestered at an intersection, or how to bypass paying E-Tolls. But on how to remain safe and protected from the biggest epidemic the world has ever seen, many seem blithely unaware.
It is time. Open your eyes. Educate yourself and those you care about. Be Brave. Start a conversation.
Craig Stadler is a contributing writer for the Anova Health Institute and these are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.