SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE: Poisoned blood among neighbours

Out in the cold
sao tome, 24 October 2007 (PlusNews) - "Killer," whispered the women washing clothes in the stream outside Santana, a small town 30km from the capital of Sao Tome, as their neighbour walked by.

Rumours were rife: "He has injected his poisoned blood into the jackfruit; nobody in the capital will buy it" and "he bathes in the river and we will catch the virus" were repeated at the water tap, the minibus rank and the market.

Then the whispers grew louder - "kill him, kill him" - people would hiss when they saw him, so that the man feared for his life and alerted the top health official and the police in Santana.

His crime was to be HIV-positive in a small town on Sao Tome Island, in the archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe, off the coast of Gabon. There are around 160,000 people, seroprevalence is less than two percent, and intolerance towards a disease rarely seen and poorly understood is high.

His family refused to share meals with him. His sister refused to wash his clothes. His mother moved the TV from the lounge into her room to avoid sitting next to him on the sofa.

Because he was too afraid and ashamed to go to the local clinic, a health official discreetly brought him antiretroviral drugs each month. When he needed to go to the capital, Sao Tome, for tests, a private car would pick him up outside Santana and the man would travel lying on the back seat.

Once AIDS officials in Sao Tome became aware that the man was HIV positive, they reacted swiftly with a four-week programme.

Every Saturday, a team of officials and activists from the National Programme against AIDS and the Portuguese NGO, Medicos do Mundo, drove from Sao Tome to Santa to talk to the man's family, his neighbours, the people and local leaders of the town.

They went from house to house, to the market, the minibus rank, the river and the well. "It was so hard to convince people that the HIV-positive neighbour did not pose a danger", said Ludmila Monteiro, an educator with Medicos do Mundo.

On the last Saturday, a mobile clinic rolled into town, offering HIV and other health tests; many used it.

Eventually, the hissing and whispering ceased. The man returned home. His mother brought the TV back to the lounge and now they watch it together.

This happened in 2006. To date, not one person in Sao Tome has said publicly, "I am HIV-positive."


See also: Unseen and unwelcome - living with HIV

Theme (s): PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

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

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