18 May 2008


I had a conversation with a mechanic while he was working on the car. We were unable to communicate in English, so I spoke through an interpreter. (I'm paraphrasing the conversation).

Mechanic: So what do you do when people are not running into your car?
Dr Mosi: Well, I'm a scientist, I do research into HIV.

Mechanic: So this HIV, will there ever be a cure?
Dr Mosi: Probably not. There's no cure for any illness caused by a virus, not even the common cold. You can't kill something that is not alive. Bacteria are alive, so antibiotics can kill them. But I'm hoping that there will be a vaccine soon. That's how smallpox was eradicated and polio is not a huge problem any more.

Mechanic: I think I have HIV
Dr Mosi: Did you go for a test? You know testing is free and anonymous. So is the counselling and treatment.

Mechanic: You know, people here are very poor. Women... they need to eat... so they ask for 20-pin [20,000 Kwacha, about US$5.00]. And you can't give them 20-pin for nothing isn't it?
Dr Mosi: But do you at least use protection?

Mech: No.. i'm paying 20-pin, there's no way.
Dr Mosi: But that is the same as taking a loaded gun, putting it to your forehead and shooting. Actually it's worse than that, it's like taking the gun, shooting the people who are closest to you, and then killing yourself. because your wife, your girlfriend, will get it... and if your kids don't get it they will be on the streets when you pass away. No home, no chance of education, employment. I don't agree with your approach there. And it's an entirely preventable disease.

Interpreter: But is there any advantage to getting treatment?
Dr Mosi: Yes... you can live for a long time... in that time you can ensure your kids get an education, maybe get better jobs. Also, if you're on medication the chances to transmit the virus are far less, so you're helping other people out too. And it's free - your cost is just transport to get to the clinics. That 20-pin is more than enough for that. I would tell everyone to get tested at the very least, then at least you know... and can protect yourself and the ones you love. Also... about 1 in 6 people in this country is HIV positive... and the rate of infections has not gone down. So you're doing your country a great favour by limiting the spread. You guys went to the Zambia-Swaziland game, right? I'm assuming that you were supporting Zambia. How about supporting your country by not killing your near and dear ones? It'll be a great act of patriotism.

It's really sad that even after so many years of HIV prevention messages it doesn't seem to have gotten to the target audience. Maybe that's why the rate of new infections is still high. For a disease that's entirely preventable... I don't know why it's not on everybody's lips. Maybe if you have to worry about what you're eating the next meal it's not so much on your mind, but the guy I spoke to had a regular job and didn't have to worry about that. He even had more than needed to spend on 'extra-curricular' entertainment - sports, drinks, and prostitution. So... maybe it's not poverty, it's just education.

[The photo is by me, entitled "Who knows the way out?", thought it was appropriate.]


AuthorMomWithDogs said...

That was the clearest explanation about why viruses can't be cured that I've ever read! Thank you.

And so very sad and hard to change an entire cultural way of thinking. It would be like telling women in the US to stop starving themselves to be thin because it's life-threatening Ain't gonna happen as long as the culture supports it.

lova said...

love the photo !
about prevention, 2 words: female condom.

shilpa said...

Wonderfully written!!
It is sad..terribly sad that a disease that can be prevented is killing so many people...striking them down so young.The biggest problem here ,is not just that the virus is horrifyingly infective..but that awareness about it seems to be totally absent.Why do people not want to talk about it? Why is it so taboo to discuss something that affects so many people?
Even the most affected dont want to talk about it...do anything to prevent it..or try to know more.You cant force awareness...you cant push people to want to help themsleves.
Why would people rather spend time and money on entertainment when their very life could be ending ? And more pertinent..when its in their hands to stop it, to put an end to the spread...why wont we live up to our responsibilites ?

Rohini said...

That was quite the speech, Dr. Mosi. They should make you the face of the next HIV campaign :-)

Seriously though, it is sad and shocking that the treatment and diagnosis is free and anonymous and yet people don't go. Seems almost like a 'What I don't know, can't harm me' philosophy...

Anonymous said...

That was really well explained Ranjit. Do they have those traveling troupes there in Zambia? Those ones that go out to villages and do those plays about HIV? Kind of like in that movie, The Constant Gardener...

Good luck with your work!

mosilager said...

thanks everyone.

@anon - I haven't watched the constant gardener. There are organisations trying to get the message by way of plays, music etc. There's a group of drummers close to the clinic who spread the message. They are hiv+ people from the community itself. They basically go and educate their neighbours, it's really good to remove stigma. Thanks for your comment.