Sunday, May 13, 2007

Are you afrAIDs?


It was an early morning after a good night sleep at 10pm. I woke up at 640am surprisingly but there was still not enough time to prepare. I tried my best to memorise the programme flow and the speakers’ portfolio. Seriously, they haven’t quite sunken in.

‘Are you AfrAIDs’ will rock the stage today.

It did.

I love the documentary we managed to find. It’s about a Thai girl who was not HIV positive, but her entire family, including her parents and her younger sister are, and they have died since then. They showed how her sister and her best friend were initially healthy and active, till how they lost weight, became extremely thin and sick, and eventually, you see them at the cremation. I watched it the day before to get immunized but today I had to distract myself from the video so that I don’t get emo – to maintain my professionalism as an MC.

Prof Albert Teo who's a volunteer at Patient Care Centre spoke. PCC is the only home that takes in people with HIV/AIDS. It’s distressing to hear the stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS. Their families throw them out. No homes will take them in. Government doesn’t really provide for them due to political interest. They have few volunteers as it’s very traumatizing for them to see the patients weakening and dying EVERYDAY. It’s easy to imagine these situation but it’s a whole different feeling to hear a first-hand encounter from a volunteer who has worked closely with the patients. Ok it’s not really first-hand, as due to the social stigma, the patients couldn't step into the daylight and talk.

So the volunteer has to do the job. Yes it’s easy to blame on the patients for getting it through promiscuous sex. But who hasn’t committed a sin before? Who here is so clean and innocent? And how about the women who got it from their husbands? And the children who got it from their mothers? And those who got it through blood transfusion? HIV/AIDS is just another illness. But the package that comes with it is entirely different from other illnesses. And we all know the difference. The discrimination. At home. At workplace. At social circles. Even though a lot of them can function normally, just like anyone of us. Actually, there’s no reported discrimination against employees with HIV/AIDS, because employees with HIV/AIDS will never tell their employers about this! And fund-raising to help people with HIV/AIDS doesn’t receive well due to the stigmatization as well. But people with HIV needs the money to prevent themselves from getting AIDS, which is when they start falling sick. And the medicine is expensive. Like $1,000 a month. And many of the patients are actually blue-collared worker, so the medicine can easily cost more than their salary. The issues of HIV/AIDS went on and on and there didn’t seem to be much progress in Singapore ever since the illness was identified.

After lunch, Miss Ho Lai Peng spoke. She’s the principal medical social worker at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. She told us that the rate of transmission through blood depends on the amount of blood transmitted. And there must be wound to wound contact before there’s a chance for transmission. HIV/AIDS cannot spread through mosquitoes or saliva. A lot of us know this. But if ask us to share food with people with HIV/AIDS, a lot of us are still hesitant about it. What we know is different from what we do.

People with HIV/AIDS are very sensitive. They are scared of people’s response, they are afraid of transmitting it to others, they are lonely, depressed, anxious, and they can get really work up if they, as employees, have to go through medical checks, as they are afraid that they will be a HIV testing for it. Some people don’t want to start medication, because taking medication is a chop that confirms the diseases. Even taxi drivers are hesitant to drive into Communicable Disease Centre as they are afraid of catching the virus.

I told Miss Ho, during my liaising with her, to share unusual facts about HIV/AIDS. But she said she didn’t know what is unusual about HIV/AIDS, because the public is so ignorant about it. Every truth could probably be unusual. Even the medical workers don’t know it well. There’s a doctor who doesn’t know how to spell HIV in full. I challenge you to try. There were nurses who still thought that HIV/AIDS can transmit through saliva. Even the medical workers don’t know the illness well. How about the public? I always thought that HIV/AIDS has a long history in the world. However, it was only discovered in the 1970s in the world, and the first case in Singapore was 1985. It’s a relatively new issue. However, since 1985, 22 years have passed. Nothing really moved.

The session was really enriching. It opened us to a world that is so foreign to us, yet it’s a pressing issue that we cannot ignore. We can live in comfort and joy, but we should not neglect those who are marginalized and suffering.

I was glad I joined the organizing committee to organize this workshop. Initially I wanted to join it just to enhance my leadership experience. I couldn’t really identify with the topic. Thought that it’s a topic that no one cared about cuz it’s so over-publicised. Then today I realized. Yes it’s a topic that no one cares about. The turn out rate showed it. We had fewer than 40 people attending this, though the expected turn out was 100. Yes people don’t care about it. So we go on with our stereotypes and the help can never reach the people with HIV/AIDS. But it’s ok. The workshop shall enlighten the few who have come and benefited. Hopefully this will be a ripples effect to spread the awareness around. They need the help and we can afford the help. What we need to help ourselves is the psychological fear that we have. It’s natural to have it but it’s actually unsound. We need to overcome ourselves, not overcome the people with HIV/AIDS.

We need to be there.

We can be there.

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