A new generation……a new approach to HIV/AIDS prevention and care?

By: Jack Liddall, UNICEF Malawi Guest Blogger

I am 16 years old. I was born at the beginning of the 21st century and live in a world that my parents could hardly have imagined. A world of the internet, a digital age, where I can Skype someone on the other side of the world if I feel like it and where I have a global encyclopaedia at my fingertips. If my mum needed to complete a project at school, she tells me she had to schedule in a trip to the local library, where she wrote out information longhand from reference books she wasn’t allowed to borrow out. Today, I just switch on my laptop and Google for information.

The generational gap seems to be accentuated by the advancements in technology. Only the other day, I read about an initiative in England where primary school children are writing letters to elderly people in the local area, with the dual aim of encouraging both friendships between the generations and the use of the rather forgotten skill of letter writing! Our generation of computer-literates seem to have left older folks in a haze of confusion and bewilderment.

You would think then, that when it comes to HIV/AIDS education that my generation would have it sorted. We have access to technology second to none; we communicate with each other more quickly and more frequently than any generation before. And yet, when I asked my parents and their friends about HIV/AIDS awareness and education and how it was tackled in their day (expecting of course to be told that it was something which wasn’t discussed either at school or within the family), I was in for a surprise. I soon lost the rather derisory air which I often adopt when hearing of “how it was in my parents’ day”!
 Fifteen years or so before I was born, in the mid-1980s in the UK, an extraordinary campaign was launched. My parents remember it well, so memorable was it. I have watched the TV adverts which were screened at the time, initiated and sponsored by the UK government, and made to shock. A large dark floating iceberg, the tip jutting above the waterline with “AIDS” emblazoned below the waves. A dark tombstone thrust on to the screen, with a dramatic voiceover urging the viewer to acknowledge the new and deadly threat amongst us. The adverts which were televised were hard-hitting and ahead of their time, the likes of them had never been seen before on UK TV.

The TV campaign was accompanied by a leaflet, sent to every household in the country. There was little objection to the scare tactics and the campaign proved highly effective. Awareness of HIV and the means by which you could protect yourself from it led to a swift reduction in the number of diagnosed cases in the UK and the widespread publicity given to the nature of the infection led to an opening up within society, a challenge to the stigma which had previously been associated with HIV. Other European countries followed the UK example and even the USA expressed interest in the effectiveness of the UK campaign.

I have never witnessed such a campaign. Times have changed I guess. HIV is not the death sentence it would once have been. Treatments have improved immeasurably as has the care of those infected. The stigma once attached to HIV/AIDS has been seriously diluted and myths associated with the infection have been dispelled. The world is a very different place to that of the 1980s.

That said, however, there is still a threat from HIV/AIDS today. It may not be the stark death threat my parents’ generation faced, but it is a sizeable and life-changing threat to millions of people across the globe, with African countries disproportionately affected by the disease. So you would think that it would merit a high profile in the education of young people the world over. I can only speak from my own experience and find it curious that, although HIV/AIDS is mentioned in passing in Personal and Social Education classes at school, my recollection is that it was in Modern Studies that we learned most about the nature, effect and consequences of this infection (and then again, we looked at African case studies). We were looking at the issue from a sociological and economical perspective, examining the effect of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on global communities. In many respects, I almost felt set apart from the issue — it was a fact to be learned, not a matter which affected me personally.

Is there a place today for a more hard-hitting campaign like the one my parents witnessed? A campaign to remind us all that HIV/AIDS is alive and kicking? Have we forgotten that 36.7 million people worldwide are living with an HIV diagnosis and the consequences of the same and could we do with being reminded? The issues today may not be the same as the 1980s but it would be good to see a campaign as effective as that of the 1980s, perhaps one tackling the issue of inequality in healthcare access for those with HIV. The same is true of access to treatment and support for those living with HIV across the world. Where you live and your means can often influence what treatments you can access. That cannot be just. And nor is it just if we know about inequalities and fail to draw attention to them.

Ironically, in this world where we can, and do, travel more freely and further than any generation before us, it is perhaps more urgent for us to make the case for education and awareness-raising. Education is the key. Give a man knowledge and you arm him with an implement stronger than any weapon of war.

This blog was originally posted on: https://jackliddallsite.wordpress.com/

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