World AIDS Day rests on the horizon

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by Colette Davidson • 11/28/08 • Okay, it was only a TV movie. But it was based on a true story (as they often are) and packed a real punch. In L’Amour dans le Sang, we visit the life of Charlotte Valandrey, a French teen actress who became a star after her first film, Rouge Baiser, in 1985. At the age of 17, after a few encounters with older men, she was deemed HIV-positive and began a closeted life as an infected person.

kolet ink is the blog of colette davidson, a freelance writer for the daily planet and a former assistant editor of the uptown neighborhood news. she recently moved to perigueux, france to work as an assistant editor for the monthly english newspaper french news.

Her story reminded me of my time working with Camp for Kids, a weekend camp for children with HIV/AIDS or who had parents with the illness, in South Carolina in 2001. These children, like Charlotte, had one thing in common that is often true of patients with HIV or any other life-threatening, long term, incurable illness: disassociation.

HIV patients often lead an isolated life, not physically but emotionally. The burden of infecting a future lover becomes too great for some to embark on romantic relationships, deep friendships seem futile and the idea of having children is completely out of the realm of possibility.

Of course many of these emotions are not based on reality. HIV patients can live for decades with the illness, without so much as a case of the chills as evidence. Condoms are 98% reliable if used correctly, so sex is an option for many couples involving an HIV-positive partner. Friendships are what sustain one’s life through times of turmoil. And infants can be administered AZT as soon as they’re born for at least a year to stave off the illness. For HIV patients in 2008, there are options.

But while options are abundant to improve the quality of life of HIV-positive people, there is the constant, compounding sense of dread. How long will I be well? When will I get sick again? How long will I live? And who will I leave behind?

These questions lead many people to disassociate from loved ones and manifest as an ever present sense of aloofness. The kids I worked with at the camp were definitely full of energy and life, but there was a certain sense of coldness, of not needing attention or hugs – and for a child, these sentiments are rare. Now imagine an adult, who has witnessed hatred and discrimination for years, been cast out of certain circles or abandoned by society – after all, HIV/AIDS is an illness of the 80s and 90s, circa Magic Johnson, isn’t it? And he’s still alive, so HIV must not be that big of a deal, right?

As HIV/AIDS gets pushed further back from national debate, so do its patients recoil from a society that no longer understands them. If we want to save our HIV-positive citizens, we need to first begin talking about their situation once again, and then stop treating them like outcasts.

As of 2007, 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and more than 25 million have died of the disease since 1981. While treatment exists, it has very unpleasant side effects and, while research is continuing, there is as of yet no cure.

World AIDS day is on December 1. Check out www.worldaidsday.org to get involved. Or talk to your local church or community center about helping out someone with HIV/AIDS in your area. Or if you don’t feel ready for that, wear a red ribbon this Monday as a symbolic gesture of all those who have died and all that remains to be done to treat this illness. But do something to make yourself heard. For the sake of all those who are forced to live with this secret, let’s give them a voice.

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