When the Malealea Development Trust’s HIV Support Group marches down the street on the first of December, they call for attention in every way. They are chanting, singing, clapping, and dancing. They’ve made signs. They are wearing bright red shirts that proudly proclaim “HIV Positive!”
In Malealea, where a nearly a quarter of the population is HIV+, there is no room for stigma. There is only room for certainty and for treatment. They wear their status with pride because they are proud to know it. They are proud that they took the necessary plunge, got tested, and know the truth. Knowing the truth means that they can deal with it. They go to the clinic and consult with their doctor, they take their medications with care, and they can protect the ones they love from transmission.
The stigma surrounding HIV is harmful because it can prevent people from taking those necessary steps, increasing mortality by HIV due to lack of proper treatment and high rates of transmission. In Malealea, that stigma has been worn away by the MDT as they combat misinformation. HIV is not an indicator of sexual deviance and drug abuse – it can be passed from mother to innocent child, or between loving, but unknowing, husband and wife.
Every World AIDs Day, the support group takes to the streets for an MDT-sponsored fun-filled awareness and testing event. They march throughout the village and invite everyone to join. At the end of their march they gather at the Community Hall for a commemoration, remembering those who have been lost.
The local clinic is also invited. Counsellors set up a testing area and encourage everyone to find out their status. The clinic provides quizzes and games that test everyone’s knowledge about HIV and award prizes to the most knowledgeable. The support group and kids from a local Bible group perform dramas they have prepared that teach about HIV.
After, they share a meal together and play sports, emphasizing the link between maintaining good physical health and managing HIV.
The entire day emphasizes that it is possible to live a positive life when one is HIV+, but to do so you must know.
In order to reach new people in the community, the World AIDs Day 2017 march route has been changed. It will now end at the Botsoela Primary School, rather than the Community Center.