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Sunday 1 January 2006
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SOUTH AFRICA: Live theatre shows both positive and negative side of HIV/AIDS


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]



©  

Dramatising the positive and negative sides of HIV/AIDS

JOHANNESBURG, 13 September (PLUSNEWS) - The Gay And Lesbian Archives (GALA), a South African NGO, is using live theatre to illustrate the difficulty of moving back into society after being diagnosed with HIV.

In 'Coming Out Again', seven young homosexual men and women, three of whom are HIV positive, recount their experiences and ask questions as they prepare for a fun night out.

Director Gerard Bester told PlusNews that the play, which will run from 16 to 17 September to coincide with Johannesburg's Gay Pride Parade, was critical to raising AIDS awareness among the country's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) communities.

"The sad situation is that despite the horrific presence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, LGBTIs have to a large extent been sidelined by the government's anti-AIDS campaigns," Bester said.

An estimated five million of the country's 45 million population are living with the HI virus.

Although the government's efforts to encourage people to be tested were commendable, Bester said they did little to promote safe sex practices among homosexuals and lesbians.

"These ads only ever depict heterosexual couples going to get tested, and create the impression that gay men and women are immune to HIV infection," he commented.

AIDS treatment programmes have reflected a similar disregard for the disabled.

Deaf actor John Meletse, speaking with the help of his sign-language interpreter, shared Bester's sentiments by describing his initial diagnosis at one of the local voluntary counselling and testing sites as nothing short of "inhumane".

"I decided to get tested after seeing how easy and professional the pamphlets made it look, but on arrival at the clinic there was no way of communicating my wishes to the medical staff because there was no sign-language interpreter on call," Meletse said.

After almost being turned away as a result of the facility's lack of resources, Meletse was handed a pen and paper with which to communicate. He was eventually administered a rapid HIV test, carried out with a painless pin-prick on his thumb.

"However, receiving my results from the counsellor turned out to the most painful thing I'd ever experienced. Using a thick black marker and a white sheet of paper, the counsellor wrote in bold lettering 'YOU ARE HIV-POSITIVE' and practically shoved the piece of paper right at me," he recalled.

This experience reinforced his belief that the government regarded deaf people as "sexless individuals", who were no more entitled to adequate care and treatment than the homosexual community.

Although now at ease with his status, John still finds it especially difficult to fit into society as a deaf, HIV-positive homosexual.

"I am often denied friendship by other gays for being deaf, ostracised by the deaf for being HIV-positive, and experience overall rejection from everyone else for all these reasons. Counsellors at voluntary counselling and testing centres are not trained or adequately equipped to prepare people for life after testing positive," he said.

At present Meletse is able to cope without the added responsibility of taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs at least twice a day, but says he is fearful of the level of care he would receive at public healthcare facilities when the time for treatment arrived.

An annual health review, compiled recently by Health Systems Trust (HST), a research organisation, noted that there is insufficient capacity to treat everyone in need.

"A number of [accredited ARV] sites have reached saturation level with their present human resource capacity and are struggling to expand their services to include all patients on their waiting lists," the report pointed out.

Meanwhile, Meletse and his fellow actors, in the hope of educating the LGBTI community about the pros and cons of life after testing for HIV, are telling their true stories on stage at Constitution Hill, in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

[ENDS]




 
Recent SOUTH AFRICA Reports
Global Fund withdraws support for loveLife ,  19/Dec/05
National survey finds young women most at risk of HIV/AIDS,  1/Dec/05
AIDS activists take government to court again,  29/Nov/05
Poor governance blamed for US $10 million unspent in HIV/AIDS budget,  1/Nov/05
NAPWA partners with controversial Rath Foundation,  20/Oct/05
Links
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Le Fonds mondial de lutte contre le SIDA, la tuberculose et le paludisme
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