'Zuma not role model for safe sex'

THERE has been much controversy over President Jacob Zuma's disclosure after his fourth HIV-Aids test that he is HIV negative.

THERE has been much controversy over President Jacob Zuma's disclosure after his fourth HIV-Aids test that he is HIV negative.

It was very noticeable that neither Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi nor Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane revealed their status at the event, so Zuma's revelation seemed out of step with the usual government position on this matter.

One could argue that the president's health in particular is clearly of concern to the nation, so it is appropriate that we know his general health status.

In America, for instance, even intimate details of the president's health are disclosed and it is regarded as untoward if any serious illness is hidden.

But that does not appear to have been Zuma's motivation for disclosure since he has not given us other details of his health and did not reveal his HIV status earlier.

He would likely not have revealed his status if he was HIV positive, so it does not really address the public perception of stigma.

In Uganda, the major change of attitude was assisted by senior figures declaring that they were HIV positive, which has not occurred here in a big way.

Zuma's problem is that he is not a role model for the safe sex lessons that he preaches but plainly does not practise.

The message therefore to impressionable young people could be that despite all this he is still HIV negative, so why should they take all the necessary precautions?

The real issue is to know one's status, which requires testing, and then to take responsibility whatever the result.

If one is HIV negative, one should strive to remain that way.

If one is HIV positive, one should get the necessary treatment and ensure that it is not passed on to others.

Now that Zuma has told us that he is HIV negative it is incumbent on him to lead by example by remaining faithful to his spouses and not fathering any more children out of wedlock.

Having said this, we should be grateful for the major change in direction since the Aids-denialist days of former president Thabo Mbeki.

There has been a pick-up in HIV testing that has been assisted by the public testing by senior political figures.

The mass provision of antiretrovirals, with some exceptions in certain parts of the country, means that HIV-Aids is really not a death sentence, so taking the test is psychologically much easier.

Ironically, another type of problem then arises, which is that fewer precautions are taken because of the knowledge that there is an effective treatment that can keep one alive for many years.

This has been the experience in Uganda, where complacency has seen a moderate rise in HIV prevalence in recent years.

We need to be relentless about the prevention message because, as Motsoaledi has rightly observed, we simply cannot afford a full roll-out treatment if new infections continue at the same rate as presently.

A permanent change in behaviour is vital, which is best achieved when all role models demonstrate this in both word and deed.

l The writer is DA Gauteng Health Spokesperson