Living positively with AIDS drugs

In a move considered a breakthrough for a country with high levels of stigma and discrimination, Batswana using antiretroviral (ARV) drugs have come forward to tell their stories in a series of educational videos released this week.

The Patient Education videos are a collection of three 15-minute videos designed to educate people about the impact of HIV/AIDS and ARV therapy on their lives. They will be played in patient waiting areas and used in health education talks in up to 120 hospitals and clinics with video facilities.

The Botswana government has undertaken a campaign to provide ARVs to all of its HIV-positive citizens who need them. Since its inception in January 2002, only four percent of the estimated 110,000 people currently eligible for ARVs have enrolled in "Masa" - the national ARV therapy programme.

Stigma and denial have prevented many from participating in the treatment campaign.

"The videos are addressing the issue of stigma. These real-life stories will encourage more and more people to feel a part of what we are doing and then come forward," Masa information and education consultant, Prathima Naidoo, told PlusNews.

According to Naidoo, the videos are also designed to educate people on treatment and the importance of adherence. The videos focus on the importance of knowing your status, the need to always use a condom when having sex, the hope ARV therapy offers, and the responsibility to adhere to the therapy regimen for the rest of the patient's life.

In one of the videos, the participants explain how they started treatment and what ARV therapy is. Another video deals with staying healthy and living positively with ARVs.

The video documentaries complement the oral tradition of communicating and educating.

"It makes a difference when you see a person from your own culture, speaking in Setswana and telling you how you can get support for living with HIV/AIDS, because this is how we as Batswana are used to getting our information," Stephen Ssebaggala of the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations told PlusNews.

Tiny Mmotlano is a 37 year-old mother who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1996. She decided to appear on the video after seeing people dying from HIV/AIDS without any support. "I want to help people understand what HIV is and show them that they can live with it," she told PlusNews.

"I've been taking the pills since February 2002. But you need food to take them. If you don't have food the government can help you."

Before deciding to participate, Tiny told her parents, her child and all her relatives about living with HIV/AIDS. "They gave me the love and support, even though they didn't really understand," she added.

For Ssebaggala and many of the organisations he represents, the videos are a symbol of hope. "Ordinary Batswana like us are saying 'we have a problem and we can do something about it," he said.

More on Botswana's Masa ARV Therapy Programme