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World AIDS Day: Why bother with condoms?

Mon 1 Dec 2008 In: Community View at Wayback View at NDHA

Scratch the surface of any HIV prevention strategy carried out in New Zealand or any similar western nation where health care includes the availability of effective HIV medications and you reveal a nagging problem. To convince men who have sex with men to take the simple precaution of using a condom for anal sex you have to convince them, and by 'them' I mean 'us,' that the consequences of catching HIV are extremely undesirable Human nature means we tend to minimise unpleasant realities. And the progress modern medicine has made means the once-inevitable outcome of HIV infection is rarely visible these days. If we're not afraid of dying a horrible death, or ending up as a walking skeleton, or of a telescopically shortened lifespan, or of being a social or sexual pariah, why be concerned about living with HIV? Why give a damn about contracting or passing on HIV? Why bother using condoms? That's the nagging problem. Anyone who doesn't feel the imperative of avoiding the consequences of getting HIV sure as hell won't become committed to practising safe sex every time. So, on World AIDS Day, please ponder some of the consequences of having HIV. You will spend the rest of your life reliant on expensive drugs to stay well - or at least alive. You will doubtless experience a catalogue of unpleasant side-effects whilst on, or getting onto, your medication regimes. You will frequently worry, as your virus inevitably mutates to become immune to your latest drug combination, whether the drug companies will keep ahead of the virus or whether you are coming to the end of the line. You will fret about the reaction of family, friends and prospective sexual partners to the news that you are HIV positive. Your income will drop as you become less able to work at the rate or stress level you used to sustain. Travel through some countries, most notably the USA, will mean surrendering your health status to government databases or lying on entry documentation. You will catch yourself checking in the mirror for the early signs of disfiguring lipodystrophy. Everyone you know will wonder why, in this day and age, you let some guy shoot a load of HIV up your arse. And your life will be dominated by your HIV. Out of respect for those for whom life with HIV is a struggle our HIV prevention campaigns have tended to shy away from confronting you with the above realities. At personal and community levels we tend to draw a screen across the unpleasant aspects of HIV infection and to trumpet the medical advances that keep people with HIV alive and fairly well. HIV is undeniably a bad thing, yet its consequences are too easily minimised. That's the nagging problem underscoring our HIV prevention initiatives. That's something we, and the organisations we entrust with providing prevention and support services, have to address. Because if living with HIV is no big deal then why bother to avoid it. Why bother to use condoms. - Jay Bennie     Editorial: Jay Bennie - 1st December 2008

Credit: Editorial: Jay Bennie

First published: Monday, 1st December 2008 - 2:21am

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