As a vital part of their preparation for their trip to South Africa, I felt it important for the students to be armed with as much information about the scourge of HIV which is ravaging South Africa [and on the rise in the UK]. This, like the topic of Apartheid, continue to shape the development of the 18 year old country.
George grew up fighting for the understanding and the myth breaking of HIV / Aids in the UK throughout the 1980's, 1990's, and into the 21st century. He manner of delivery of the facts & myths around how one acquires HIV, the presenting signs of infection as well as the social, political and cultural affects was of great interest [and at times great shock to] the St. Mary's students.
George spoke of the early scare tactics of advertising awareness of HIV and Aids and how that affected those who were infected. There was general ignorance around the infection which led to utter fear and rejection of men & women who had contracted HIV.
The students were generally unaware of the early campaigns but, even more worryingly, ignorant of the facts that surround HIV / Aids. As treatment with ARVs have become more successful, a downside to this success is the lackadaisical attitude towards sexual behaviour. The 'fear' is no longer there.
The students might see the devastating effects of the infection in South Africa in much greater detail than in the UK due to the UK's stronger treatment regime but also because the communities in which we will be visiting will most likely be the most poverty stricken communities the students have ever encountered.
George strongly spoke out for the greater need of better nutrition of those who are infected. His work with The Food Chain in the UK highlights the benefits of a nutritional diet as one of the best methods to stay healthy. This is certainly the case in South Africa, where acquiring and storing ARVs have proven to be expensive and logistically difficult for many in the rural community. The government is not a university payer for the drugs and many of them require refrigeration as well as a strict schedule both which are difficult if you don't have the means of refrigeration or a stable schedule to take the drugs at the correct intervals.
Prevention, then, is the best way to stay healthy and free from HIV especially in South Africa, but also in the United Kingdom. Our students are preparing interactive forum theatre pieces that examine gender equality issues that they face in the UK sadly in the knowledge that these issues are universal. The empowerment of women is the key to a reduction in HIV.