NOT A ‘DESIGNER’ LABEL ILLNESS HIV/AIDS

A few questions came up when I took part in the Walk for Life done by Terrence Higgins Trust – a charity that supports people living with HIV/AIDS in London. “Why are you taking part in the walk, do you have any sort of connections with what they do?” “Do you have any particular reason why you are raising funds for this charity or these people?” It was a good cause and Mahatma Gandhi said – Without action the world aren’t going anywhere, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” If I was not going to do who else can do it and if everybody in the world thought to have ‘connections with what they did’ they will be less changes in the world except that “Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.”

HIV/AIDS is not a ‘designer’ illness like Cancer, Diabetics, MS, MND and other serious illnesses.In fact HIV is no longer a terminal illness like in the 80s/90s, it has a measurable sustenance of life through medication just like all the other illness. People do not go in the streets, family, and friends or work saying “I have HIV/AIDS” as it is not ‘cool enough’. There are less people who write, campaign and raise money for HIV/AIDS charities or organisation than there is for the other illnesses like Cancer, Diabetics etc. It is labelled different and its label does not fall into designer illness category, not even into Primark. Cancer is the mothers of all labels it is the Gucci or Dolce Gabbana of all designer and a lot of revenue comes through to research and fundraising. HIV/AIDS is not discussed in Starbuck or at Ritz hotel for afternoon tea like other illness are, it is exclusively something which has become a stigma even if you just volunteer or participate to help the cause. According to the World Health Organisation HIV/AIDS it affects every country in the world and in many infection rates are increasing rapidly. Today, an estimated 42 million people live with HIV/AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world worst affected. Nearly three-quarters of persons living with HIV/AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 3.1 million people who died of HIV/AIDS in 2002, 2.4 million were in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease has already orphaned 12 million children in Africa and that number could grow to a staggering 40 million. Who is going to love and care for these children if people feel it is not my problem. It has drawn millions into its agonizing vortex. In Southern Africa every family has been affected directly or indirectly by a family member, friend or someone close with HIV/AIDS or who has died. This is a fact of the matter and it’s something which is indescribable in context. Friends and families die without even knowing about the diagnosis or talking about it. People have become imperceptible to the issue that they then end up not excepting that it does exist in their own door step, its ordinary and it’s not a designer label. All this is because of the stigma that the illness has, as it does not have a DESIGNER LABEL.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon says:

“Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”

Most people become infected with HIV through sex, which often carries moral baggage; it is also thought to be the result of personal irresponsibility. Controversial or not we were all born through the consummation of sex (until recently) and it is a natural thing, which is God created and should be embraced mutually. HIV is associated further with behaviours such as homosexuality, drug addiction, prostitution or promiscuity – groups who are already stigmatised in societies. Going back to sex for argument sake, you can have a proper loving relationship with somebody who might have had a broken heart from a nice relationship with a person who was already infected without knowing. Does this make you are evil or you should be persecuted? It can be a lonely world out there, despite having an illness and everybody needs love, family and friends. The unmeasurable thing is where did the pandemic start from, as in Southern Africa needles were shared and not disposed like now? Is sex not a designer label or has it become controversial that it should be made into a sin because of HIV? What about those that got HIV though blood transfusion?

I have done the Race for Life to raise money for Cancer research and continue to donate for my friends who do it religiously every year. I have done the Walk for Life several times and even with my children and friends. It is a 10km across the greatest parts of Central London and you get to see the best views. I continuously raise money for asylum seekers/refugees through different forms of sponsorship. I donate to United Christian Broadcast religiously as they can be able to reach a lot of people spreading the word of God. I campaign about ‘Make Poverty History’. I probable want to “Make HIV/AIDS History”. I don’t think I want to be prestige but I feel very strongly about all these issues and I pray to God that one day miracles will happen for cure and less suffering to humanity.

There are approximately 35 000 black Africans living with HIV/AIDS in UK and 23% remain undiagnosed. There are approximately about 41 000 homosexual people living with HIV/AIDS in the UK. During my participation in the Walk for Life, I have only met a few black people being part of those raising money to support the cause. The last walk there was probable less than 10 black people among the hundreds that were there. The LGBT community came in great numbers and did their best in making everybody smile by dressing as villains and heroes. Sir Ian McKellen and Christopher Biggins are ‘designer labels’ and they took part in the Walk for Life. The greatest and most satisfying thing about the taking part was meeting such people who did not have to explain why they were taking part, but for the good cause despite them having a designer label as celebrities. I have met great people who campaign and take action to raise awareness of the pandemic who are not even from the high prevalent communities. They are ordinary people who are compassionate. One of my friends Manuela in Netherlands has taught me a lot about being compassionate and loving. She works tireless for the cause of people living with HIV/AIDS or marginalised communities. She is smart, intelligent, clever and probable a ‘designer label’ in all context. Through her friendship I have learnt that whatever I do might be insignificant at that time but it is important to continue doing it. Malcolm X said “If you are not careful ‘people’ and the newspapers will have you hating the people who are oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppression.”

I also gained a friend during the Walk as my partner Wayne and I met the most incredible person who has become a friend. I will call him the “Greek goddess”, he is openly gay and loving it. He is 54 years and incredibly happy, fun, fit and a strong character. We walked with him half the journey as he was alone and he told us amazing stories. We spent the next 3 hours after the walk having picnic and I personally learnt a lot about gay people. We have been to his house in London and he is kind, caring, loving, best cook and OMG very clean OCD type lol. He is probable ‘designer in his standard of living. He had no substantial reason for taking part. I have had to embrace a lot of dynamics happening with family members and friends about homosexuality and I have always felt comfortable with people’s sexuality. I believe the highest identity is our relationship with others since we do not exist in isolation. This is manifested by how we love every human being on earth as a creation of God. Our not caring – that is narcissism.

I end up with Marianne Williamson’s writing in her book “A Return to Love” (by the way she is designer, four New York #1 best sellers and recently campaigned as a Congress woman). She started the Project Angel Food for People living with HIV/AIDS without any substantial reason but to love. The many letters in her book goes like this:-

Dear AIDS virus,

Go to Hell. You took a shining star from my family. I miss him and loved him and I never told him. Why do you strike with such vengeance? I have the pain and agony you cause, but somehow you brought out the best in Leo and the best in his family.

INEZ

Dear Inez,

I didn”t bring out the worst or best. I just am. And how you live with me is up to each of you.

AIDS

She further states that HIV/AIDS and Cancer and any other serious illnesses are physical manifestations of a psychic scream, and their message is the same it’s not “HATE ME” but “LOVE ME.”

Don’t shy away from your extra-ordinariness help others to heal the world, forgo that manicure, Starbucks, haircut, designer label and donate just small change and your time to love, you can light somebody”s life.

God bless, peace and love

ALICE CHIGUMIRA