Sunday, 16 November 2014

Talking HIV with the potato man...

I was buying potatoes from the chap who has a vegetable cart across the street from where we live.

His cart is next to a bunch of others - the carts taking up the entire side of the street - a mobile row of fruits and veggies.

As I was choosing my spuds, an elderly man wearing a neck brace came up to me and asked me where I was from.  I told him from India - and we had the normal chat about who I am, where I am 'really' from, what my native place is etc.

I convinced this gentleman pretty quickly, and he proceded to tell me that he had spent most of his working life in Kenya, and had been to Europe, and had approached me because he wanted to help me, since he knew what it was like to be a foreigner.

In the course of the conversation, the potato man told this gent that I had been around for a decade or two - but then asked me the surprising question about whether I owned a restaurant.  Now I have not been asked that question before, and so quickly disabused him of the notion.

I am a social worker I told him and shared that my wife and I work for people who have HIV/AIDS.  

But there is no cure for the disease, my trusty potato seller told me. 

Aha, but there is treatment.  A life-long treatment that gives life to people with HIV, I replied.

The next veggie seller (he specialises in green leafy veggies like spinach and garnishing like cilantroe etc) then chimed in.  I know someone who has the sickness.  Can I bring him to you.

Of course, I said, bring him over to the old Lok Hospital building on Monday morning with all his papers etc.

We live in a age where most people know about HIV.  But so many still don't know that we have excellent treatments available.

We also live in an age where thankfully, shall we say miraculously, HIV has not spread as it was feared.

I remember reading a man who claimed that 2 lakh men were being infected every night by prostitutes in Mumbai.   Yes, there are anywhere between 1-2 lakh women who are selling sexual services every night in the greater Mumbai area.  Yes, they have between 2-4 clients a night.  But each contact - even with an HIV infected person has a less than 1 percent transmission rate.  Add some prophylactic and the rate dips further.

But most importantly, we have a low back-ground level at this point.  Yesterday our team conducted a testing camp with a local church.  96 people were counselled and received free HIV testing.   Not a single one tested HIV positive.  A number had had recent sexual exposures.   This is a total miracle.  And we have seen that for the last 3 months, our community HIV testing camps have found no positive person.

What a difference to Durban, S. Africa, where a dear friend of ours told us that they had hired 4 maids in 6 years.  Each maid had to be replaced... because she died of AIDS.

We are very, very grateful that we are not working with HIV prevalence levels like that.

But, for all the good cheer, we still have the disease.  The green-veggie seller, next to the potato man, knows someone who does not seem to be linked to HIV care yet.

The disease still does not speak its name.

We still have some distance to travel.

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