June 07, 2005

Thinking about AIDS

Tonight I had the privilege of attending a talk by a fellow Hertford College MCR member, Jo, who lost her mother to AIDS. It was a sober reminder of how much AIDS can impact any one of us, and furthermore of the social barriers which prevent effective education and protection from the disease. It may seem to many of us like a remote disease, but in reality it can strike anyone anywhere, and our only protection is education, awareness and abstinence.

The main point of Jo's talk tonight was that we have to remove the taboo and stigma from the disease. Firstly, people tend to shun AIDS sufferers. Perhaps this is because it is associated with a certain lifestyle. However, Jo's mother did not lead a life different from the rest of us, yet she still contracted the disease. They do not know how or when, except that she had it for many years before she found out. In the course of visiting her mother in hospital Jo met many people from many professions and walks of life. Only one was a drug user. Most were people whom we would never suspect of having AIDS. The disease does not discriminate.

Alternatively, perhaps AIDS sufferers are shunned because people are afraid of contracting the disease, which is not possible from normal contact. Jo herself is proof of this- she lived with her mother for years, as close as a mother and daughter could be, neither knowing about the disease lurking, without contracting it. She must have spent the better part of a year by her mother's side in an AIDS ward in a hospital in Paris, but nothing ever happened to her.

The wider issue is that AIDS itself has a certain stigma and we have to overcome that. As I've said over and over again in my own speeches to publicise this swim, the only way to prevent AIDS is education. We must understand it, we must be aware of the risks and how it is transmitted, and we must be willing to share this and openly discuss it. Pandering to social conservatism or falling prey to taboos will only cost us lives.

Don't forget, Action For AIDS Singapore is one of the two charities benefiting from my swim. Please take a look at their website, or at any of the many other websites out there which will teach you all you need to know. There's an excellent one at Avert.org.

Posted by pj at June 7, 2005 07:30 AM