By Ngwako Motsieng:
Growing up in rural South Africa, radio was my only source of information. Today, many people still rely on radio to follow what is happening around the world. It follows that radio personalities and their guests command considerable power to influence. This puts a responsibility on them to be careful of what they say when on air.
On Wednesday, 22 January 2020, I tuned in to one community radio station operating in Klerksdorp and I was left in dismay. The presenter played a pre-recorded interview between the station’s talk-show host Brenza Modise and one Dr Basil Gold. The interview focused on HIV/AIDS and provision of antiretroviral treatment to those living with HIV. Dr Gold claimed that people get HIV through the food they eat and that only black people are taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). What made the interview bizarre was the fact that the host did not challenge the views of Dr Gold. The amount of misinformation shared could not go unchallenged.
The North West Health department communications team decided to visit the station to set the record straight because the misleading information could have devastating consequences.
A mere internet search could have revealed the following fast facts to the presenter about HIV:
You can only get HIV by coming into contact with specific bodily fluids of someone living with the virus.
HIV can be transmitted during unprotected sex; through sharing injecting equipment; from mother-to-baby during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding; and through contaminated blood transfusions.
Using condoms consistently during sex will protect you from HIV infection through sex.
Taking HIV treatment if you are a new or expectant mother, and avoiding shared injecting equipment if you use drugs, will also protect you and those around you from HIV.
The South African government has done a lot of work in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the years and we cannot allow people like Dr Gold to mislead the people through clear misrepresentation of facts.
There has been progress in the reduction of the number of AIDS-related deaths (black and white) since 2010, when Government launched a massive HIV Counselling and Testing campaign. Figures released in 2018 show that there was a 50% decrease, from 140 000 deaths to 71 000 deaths reported. The number of new HIV infections fell from 390 000 to 240 000 in the same period.
Eighty-seven per cent of pregnant women living with HIV accessed ARV treatment to prevent transmission of the virus to their baby, preventing 53 000 new HIV infections among newborns. Of all adults aged 15 years and over living with HIV, 62% were on treatment, while 63% of children aged 0–14 years living with HIV were on treatment.
The health department adopted the 90–90–90 HIV strategy on HIV. The strategy envisions that, by December 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment and 90% of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads irrespective of the skin.
All these efforts are meant to realise an HIV free society. Let us remember to abstain from sex until right time comes, be faithful and to use condoms.
Motsieng is a public servant.