Taboo silence spreads virus

On World Aids Day this year the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society is digging below global and regional trends, seeking to explore the taboos that still drive infections and prevent people from seeking the care, treatment and support that is available.

On World Aids Day this year the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society is digging below global and regional trends, seeking to explore the taboos that still drive infections and prevent people from seeking the care, treatment and support that is available.

"We are now roughly three decades into the pandemic and I think there is some stagnation in how we talk about it," said Françoise le Goff, head of the Red Cross's Southern Africa Zone.

"Instead of looking at the intimate experiences of the virus, we tend to look at it from a statistical and medical point of view."

Such an approach fails to comprehend the infinite complexities of HIV-Aids, a failing that in turn affects the effectiveness of the policies and approaches of governments and humanitarian organisations.

"How can we expect to be successful if we don't explore and integrate information about sensitive and untold issues?"

To illustrate this point the Red Cross is taking an in-depth look at three taboos that sit at the heart of the pandemic.

Older people: "Older people continue to be excluded from HIV prevention, care and treatment services," said Patrick Couteau, Red Cross's HIV and Aids coordinator for the region.

"Existing HIV policies often marginalise older people because of a misconception that older people are no longer sexually active and therefore not at risk."

Sexual and gender-based violence: "We have to discuss and change the gender-related beliefs, attitudes and practices of both men and women.

"We have to challenge traditional gender norms that support male superiority and entitlement and social norms that tolerate or justify violence against women."

Men who have sex with men: "Men who have sex with men is a subject that many individuals and some governments would prefer not to talk about but failing to acknowledge these behaviours and to address them helps the epidemic to grow."

For more information contact Cochrane on matthew.cochrane@ifrc.org.

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