Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Celebrities can change mindsets on HIV testing

The article, “Prince Harry, Rihanna take HIV test on World Aids Day” in the Life Section of The Straits Times on Saturday 3rd December 2016, caught my attention first thing in the morning.  I have the utmost respect and admiration of leaders and world famous celebrities who go out of their way to help change mindsets. 

Sufferers of HIV are often discriminated against. The fear surrounding the emerging HIV epidemic in the 1980s even persists today and misconceptions of this illness need to change.   Thus, public education on HIV has to be intensified.

HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV and AIDS.

Many people mistakenly believe that:

  • HIV and AIDS are always associated with death
  • HIV is associated with behaviours that some people disapprove of (like homosexuality, drug use, sex work or infidelity)
  • HIV is only transmitted through sex, which is a taboo subject in some cultures
  • HIV infection is the result of personal irresponsibility or moral fault (such as infidelity) that deserves to be punished
  • inaccurate information about how HIV is transmitted, creating irrational behaviour and misperceptions of personal risk

Some people even believe that one can get infected if you mix with people with HIV. It is clearly a misunderstood illness – just like mental illness. I still recall how a mental health counsellor told me that some ignorant people mistakenly believe that if you drink from a cup used by a psychiatric patient, you can be infected with a mental illness.

There are still people in our midst who feel that because HIV patients have led a flirtatious lifestyle, they are being punished and they don’t deserve help.   Medication is expensive – and some patients travel all the way from Singapore to Thailand to buy the medication which is cheaper over there.

The effort on the part of Prince Harry and Pop Queen Rihanna is indeed a very noble one.  It was Prince Harry who persuaded Rihanna to take the HIV test with him when they attended a concert in celebration of Bridgetown’s capital Barbados’ 50th anniversary on Wednesday 30th November 2016.

It hilarious reading of how Rihanna teased the Prince when the needle that was pricked in the future King’s finger caused him to make a face as he took the test: “Oh, that’s not bad. You made it seem like it hurt,” Rihanna took a jibe at the Prince.

Leaders and celebrities can so easily change mindsets and eradicate discrimination and stigma because people in general look up to them as role models. 

To this end, I urge our local celebrities and even our politicians to emulate the good work Prince Harry and Rihanna have done and step forward to support the Ministry of Health’s programme to get more of our locals and foreigners working here to participate in HIV testing next year and every year thereafter.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



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