Monday, 01 December 2014 09:32

Reflections on World AIDS Day: Johan

Written by  Johan Maritz

World AIDS Day 2014The annual World AIDS Day (WAD) has left me with mixed feelings for a number of years and continues to do so. My earliest memories of WAD make me think of the (somewhat clichéd) red ribbon, previously or possibly still regarded as a symbol of support, connectedness, a struggle, stigma, unity, fatigue or in some cases a tick on an annual ‘to do’ list. I can remember asking people on 2 December about the absence of their red ribbons and getting a range of evasive responses, if any at all.


I have been involved in the AIDS field for more than 15 years and WAD carries another association for me, over and above red ribbons. An annual frenzy, with an array of companies, NGOs and government departments all looking for speakers, teachers, condoms, mass testers, orphans, candles, and needless to say: masses of red ribbons. This frenzy normally ensues in the last week of November and sometimes continues until mid-morning on the 1st of December. The rest of the year none of this is required. Also for some time an associated frenzy was the number of companies phoning me to try and sell WAD ‘products’. An old favourite was the red ribbon banner that one could buy at a ‘bargain’ price to surround or wrap your organisation’s premises with, to show your ‘commitment’ and ‘care’ to your stakeholders.


While I might paint a bleak commercialised picture, it is not my intention. WAD can be a very personal experience, a day on which you may remember loved ones that one might have lost. It can also mean taking a breather for others as volunteers take some daily tasks and challenges off their hands. For organisations it could actually offer an opportunity do something meaningful as a symbol of their commitment. Support child headed households, or if you have the resources, have you considered truly investing in the young people heading those households and making bursaries available to them?


WAD is also an opportunity to celebrate our successes and I guess we should. I do want to challenge everyone however to look critically beyond the number of people tested, treated and even the amount of foreskins removed. Look beyond the goals and targets achieved and the stretched targets for the coming year and ask yourself: what does 1 December signify for a woman in an abusive relationship that continues to put her at risk of infection? What does it signify for a person of a sexual minority group not being able to access preventative or therapeutic services due to pervasive stigma and discrimination? Also ask yourself what am I (or what are we) doing on the other 364 days of the year?

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