I’ve come to believe that the greatest misunderstanding with regards to HIV/AIDS in need of remedying here in Madagascar (and i suspect many places elsewhere that share some of the same challenges as this place) fall into two categories: the belief that you have to do something wrong in order to become infected (ie that infected people deserve the illness due to immoral or mis – behavior) and the idea that if you dont have HIV/AIDS, its not a problem for you (ie your life goes on ‘business as usual’ and you remain unaffected). There are questions I ask of the malagasy as a regular part of my teachings and the answers I get are oftentimes concerning. Such as...1) T/F? Tokony ho’menatra ny olona izay voan’ny VIH/SIDA (people who are infected should be ‘shy’, or in other words, should be kept away from the community at large). Most reply true. 2) Mino ve ianao fa tsy maintsy maditra mba ho’voan’ny VIH/SIDA (do you believe that you have to misbehave/do something bad or wrong in order to get HIV/AIDS)? And 3) Raha tsy voan’ny VIH/SIDA ianao, dia mila miahy momba ny aretina ve ianao? Izay hoe, mampiova ny fiainanao ve ny aretina SIDA (raha tsy voan’ny)? (If you don’t have HIV/AIDS, do you need to care about the disease? That is, does AIDS change/affect your life if you are not infected?). Might be worth mentioning that when i posed Q 2 to my friend who oversees the operation of the upstairs of the clinic devoted to reproductive health of adolescents (where i plan/hope to post teachings on these very issues before leaving) and Q 3 to my counterpart, a malagasy doctor...they both gave the answer of misunderstanding. Now there is still a pretty large language barrier to contend with and i remain very humble about my so-called language ‘skills’...but if the communication of ideas was as effective as i believe it was, it is very concerning indeed that people who are supposed to be knowledgable about such things and in positions to influence and guide the views of others less knowledgeable hold such views.
Also worth mentioning, having to do with the above, the religion gets into the mix with views on AIDS here. In that, many believe if one prays diligently enough, they will remain uninfected. And the idea that AIDS was sent by God as punishment to those who are bad people and are guilty of committing some sort of sin. Of course, when you buy into such thinking, it makes leaving or turning your back on that person much easier. So I have been devoting alot of my teachings and energy to dispelling these beliefs and trying to illustrate that one need not do anything wrong to become infected.