Little Mr Fear and little Ms Stigma – our HIV Story

2 11 2010

This is not the right story. This is not the story we thought we were in and it’s not the story we wanted to tell. Our HIV story is telling itself in ways we hoped it wouldn’t. It has been a constant struggle getting access to schools to talk about HIV/AIDS but we have kept trying and have, generally had some success. We work hard to advocate for HIV/AIDS issues – our magic letter and our t-shirts help considerably with this. Undoubtedly there is much misunderstanding about the disease and a great amount of personal distancing from it. HIV is clearly associated with ‘sinful’ activities in this region, such as sex outside marriage (which if not illegal is totally taboo) and narcotics (which it very much is in Iran).  This makes it a hard disease to talk about and even harder to get people to engage with a more companionate and complex consideration of the issues surrounding transmission and protection.  This has been brought home to us in Dubai – where we have had a nasty encounter with little Mr Fear and little Ms Stigma.

There are a swarm of International Schools and local schools in Dubai – and we contacted a good slice of them. We emailed, we rang, we emailed again… only two replied. One to say no, one to say maybe. We clung tight to our maybe and were excited when they confirmed an hour session with 300 students! But the day before they asked to see our material .. we sent it and they changed their mind – because one of our supporting video clips gives an example of a man who contracted HIV by having sex, without a condom, to a girl he is not married to. It seems it is ok to mention HIV but not to talk about transmission or prevention. Clearly many of the teachers want to engage with the issues but are being blocked from doing so by the shadowy haze of little Mr Fear at management level. This is sad and should be a major concern for this country – international agencies are growing increasingly concerned about the regions inability to engage with this disease. Worryingly there is a lack of statistical clarity to draw on but patterns would indicate that rates of infections are rising and will continue to do so. So, while the UAE may screen for HIV in those who want to come and work out here it doesn’t screen the thousands of holiday makers who hit its plastic shores every year, it doesn’t screen its locals every time they leave the country or its economic migrants after they have popped home for a holiday. We have also noticed that people move away from us on the metro when out with our t-shirts on and a waft of shifty glances and whispered comments leave a tinge in the air behind us.

Hiding behind a screen only helps little Mr Fear and little Ms Stigma to thrive. We hope for better luck in India where they have been dealing with a significant HIV/AIDS issue since the epidemic boom in the 1980’s…. maybe….



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