Drastic measures needed to arrest HIV transmission

DERRICK Nhekairo, a Zimbabwean man living illegally in the United States, got entangled in a legal battle for knowingly infecting four Texas women with the HIV virus.

Cross Border Chronicles with Sukoluhle Nyathi

This case has similarities to the one featuring Sifiso Makhubu, a South African man who raped 34 children and two women knowing full well he was HIV-positive.

Unfortunately, Makhubu did not live to see what his fate would have been at the High Court as he committed suicide in a Johannesburg prison a month ago.

In some countries it is a crime to knowingly transmit HIV to sexual partners. Transmission of the virus can be done in three ways: Intentional, reckless and accidental transmission.

Intentional transmission is when you are fully aware of your HIV status and engage in sexual intercourse with the sole intent of infecting others.

This, in my mind, is tantamount to premeditated murder. I lose count of the number of stories of bitter HIV-positive people trying to spread the disease to as many unsuspecting people as they can.

Notwithstanding the fact that HIV is now a manageable chronic illness in the same vein with cancer, diabetes and lupus.

Yet despite the existence of anti-retroviral treatment, you still have people cruising the streets of life with Steven Seagal’s Death Wish as opposed to Bruce Willis’s Die Hard mentality.

Reckless transmission is when an HIV-positive person, in the heat of the moment, has unprotected sex without disclosing their status to their partner.

It’s akin to playing Russian Roulette, a game of chance where you hold a loaded gun to your head in the hope that the chamber is not loaded when you pull the trigger.

The third method of transmission is accidental, whereby the HIV-positive person was genuinely unaware they were infected and engaged in unprotected sex.

This is probably the category in which a great number of people fall into as many people refuse to get tested.

So much for the adage “knowledge is power” because when it comes to HIV most people believe “ignorance is bliss”.

Many prefer to dive head first into the deep end and face the consequences later. Intersexions is one film which has illustrated in an accessible way how the virus finds its way into our lives through every day interactions and intersexing.

There are no loud voracious posters with slogans like “Sex thrills; Aids kills”, rather the issues are cinematically projected in situations that we all can relate to.

One American study showed the majority of new HIV infections were caused by people who were infected with HIV and did not know their status. Only 30% to 40% of all new HIV infections were transmitted by people who knew their status. Just last month Sadc proposed compulsory HIV testing.

I fully support this stance. I know some of you will stand up in arms saying mandatory testing goes against fundamental human rights.

However, it becomes a problem when protecting such rights could impinge on someone else’s right to good health and longevity.

I say this especially on behalf of women who are the most vulnerable when it comes to negotiating safe sex practices.

Many women are afraid of carrying condoms in case they are perceived to be loose and immoral. This kind of behaviour is seen as the preserve of prostitutes.

Even married women who are fully aware that their partners are engaging in risky behaviour outside the marital home often cannot enforce the use of condoms in a marriage and as such receive HIV, legs open wide.

In many instances, women leave the onus on men to initiate the use of condoms because if they insist it is either met with violence or deprivation of economic benefits.
As such, many lie on their backs, close their eyes and hope for the best. I believe in mandatory testing more than criminalising of HIV.

As the UNAIDS argued, there is no correlation between criminalising HIV transmission and the spread of HIV. In the same way, there are punitive measures associated with crimes like theft, murder and rape, but they continue to be committed.

Criminal intent aside, many lives are lost unnecessarily due to someone’s unwillingness to get tested. Even in instances where the writing is on the wall, raging denial becomes the thin line between life and death.

I have watched people close to me wither, disintegrate and eventually succumb to death because of their refusal to “give in” to an HIV test. Like I pointed out earlier, in the 21st Century, we should not even be talking about losing people to Aids or the other names we fondly call it.

However, it is clear that drastic measures still need to be implemented in arresting the spread of HIV.

 Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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