By Michelle Hough, communications officer
“AIDS: Don’t die of ignorance” was just one of the public service announcements that the British Government used in the mid-1980s to shock people into behaving responsibly.
The people I visited in rural Swaziland yesterday, who had HIV and who had lost children to AIDS-related illnesses, lived in mud huts and didn’t have televisions or newspapers. Were they dying of ignorance?
“I’d say over 90 percent of people in Swaziland have knowledge about HIV,” said Dr Dube, director of the LaMvelase AIDS help centre in Manzini.
“However, most of the children who need to be tested are in rural areas, where they may live with their grandparents, and for these people there’s a lack of outreach,” he said.
Dr Dube confirmed that food and money for transport create enormous problems for people in the countryside.
“We do get some patients’ mothers complaining that they didn’t have anything to give their children to eat, so they didn’t give their children their ARVs because they’ve heard you can’t take medication on an empty stomach,” he said.
The Caritas Internationalis HAART for Children campaign, the reason why I’ve come to southern Africa, doesn’t just focus on improving testing and treatment for HIV, but also for TB – which is a major opportunistic infection among people with HIV in poor countries.
“Most of the people we lose are because of TB – probably because of late diagnosis,” said Dr Dube. “And it’s difficult to diagnose children, often we just have to go on what we suspect,” he said.