"AIDS today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines, floods and ravages of diseases such as malaria. It is devastating families and communities, depleting health care resources and robbing schools of both students and teachers."
– Nelson Mandela, 13th International Aids Conference, 2000.
A multitude of social customs and cultural conditions contribute to the pandemic of HIV and AIDS. Generally people do not openly discuss sex, condom use is low and multiple sexual partners are common. Knowledge of the virus amongst individuals is limited and for most people proper medical care is out of reach so that HIV may go undetected for many years until symptoms are severe and others already infected. Sadly, for many years, HIV has just seemed like someone else's problem.
The fear and discrimination that seem to go hand in hand with HIV further conceal the crisis and mean that many will die behind closed doors. Until communities understand and accept HIV, opportunistic infections brought on by AIDS allow the true impact of the epidemic to be camouflaged and largely invisible. As an NGO volunteer observed, ‘people don't die of AIDS, they are just sick.' People fear the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS and live with the constant threat of discovery and discrimination. Sickness and death are surrounded with secrecy and lies as incomes are lost and they sink deeper into poverty.
The realities and challenges of HIV and AIDS can seem almost too great to bear. Yet the best response to the pandemic comes from people living with the virus. Their involvement and example bring a human face and voice to HIV, breaking through the silence, stigma and denial that shroud the disease.
Nomawethu's story stands as a representative testimony for many of the untold stories in South Africa. It is a human and courageous account of what people affected by the AIDS pandemic are facing. It also demonstrates how working through fear and denial can achieve acceptance, dignity and hope.
To improve the quality of life for people living with HIV & AIDS.