Nthabisang Moreosele spoke to a bishop about the complexities of the killer pandemic

The HIV-Aids infection rate is increasing despite people knowing about the deadly pandemic. They simply refuse to practise safe sex.

The HIV-Aids infection rate is increasing despite people knowing about the deadly pandemic. They simply refuse to practise safe sex.

So says Bishop Thabile Mirriam Mnisi-Msibi, head of Ekuthuleni Multipurpose Villa, a hospice and homeless shelter in Orange Farm, Gauteng. The villa is part of the outreach programme of the Missionary Care Society.

It has a frail care section for those in the terminal stages of the disease.

Mnisi-Msibi believes that the infection rate will remain high because of rape, poverty and the vulnerability of the many child-headed households.

"The grants given to child families are not enough. They do not cover all the overheads like electricity, water, etc," she said.

"Children don't know that they do not have to pay for municipal services. They also don't know that they do not have to pay school fees."

The grants only take the edge off hunger. They do not stretch to extras such as televisions. If the children buy a TV set, there is no money for food.

Mnisi-Msibi said that many youths do not attend school, have no matric exemptions or money for tertiary education. That they loiter around, abusing drugs and alcohol and raping children and grandmothers out of boredom and despair.

"The government needs to do something about unemployable youth. The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are supposed to complement what government is doing, but we are hamstrung by lack of incentives and stipends to carry out our projects.

"Government is stymied by red tape. They often fail to reach people on the ground. The NGOs can reach the people because we have extensive outreach programmes," she said.

Mnisi-Msibi said poverty exacerbated the pandemic. Families often demanded help from a stricken member because she was their ATM or cash cow.

If a patient's viral load improved, her relatives very often forced her to stop taking ARVs because of fears that the grant would be discontinued.

"People are starving out there. There is no food and there are no jobs. Husbands beat their wives out of frustration and then rape their kids in a futile effort to exercise power. The silence on incest also helps the disease to spread.

"We give patients food parcels and they exchange them for alcohol. We take in people on the brink of death, help them to recover and then they go back home and deliberately spread the disease.

"They are in denial and most of them refuse to test for the virus. They refuse to visit the local clinic because they might be seen in the wrong queue," Mnisi-Msibi said.

Stigma still plays a big role in denial. People living with the virus are derisively called "two rooms and a garage".

Mnisi-Msibi said a member of her congregation was beaten, sworn at and had her pension stolen by her own relatives. They believe that her disclosure has brought shame on the family.

"We motivate people not to judge, but to embrace the sick. Our church has buried 288 people, but the churches need to do more. Churches must open their doors and actively campaign for Aids patients."

Mnisi-Msibi says the government's ABC campaign is not working. People often ask her what alternative activity there is to having sex.

She says the "s" in Aids is for the collection of all the opportunistic diseases that afflict HIV patients. Most of the diseases are notifiable, but Aids itself, the last stages of a terminally ill patient, is not notifiable.

"The tragedy of it all is that the stigma of immorality has been removed from having multiple partners.

"We need to go back to the basics to nurture good moral values. Then people might have a choice," Mnisi-Msibi says.