Monday 6 June 2011: 4 years 9 months on …DEUCE
It has been three decades since the discovery in 1981 of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus – thirty years of HIV and AIDS.
It has been two decades since I became a Human Resources Manager in 1990, handed a video tape on HIV and AIDS and given the task of “training” 2000 employees on a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing!
It has been almost one decade since I started my business as an HR consultant in 2002 and was thrown head on into companies that were struggling to get to terms with the medical, economic, legal, personal and humane impact that the pandemic was having on their business. Here, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, we were looking at one person in every four that was infected. South Africa soon became the country in the world with the largest number of infections – some 6 million people!
If you are presently older than thirty years, you would have been born into a world that did not know the virus. If you are younger than thirty years, you have been a part of the world which discovered the virus, denied its impact, did next to nothing and then did damage control!
The video made some startling predictions about what could be expected in the years ahead if nothing was done to stop the virus. Most people thought it was alarmist and nothing was done – suffice to say that what lay ahead became even worse than the predictions made at that time.
The numbers soon became a long cry from the very first case that I managed when one of our managers presented HIV positive in the early nineties. Those were the days before HIV/AIDS policies, codes of good conduct and legislation.
Frankly, we did not know what we were dealing with and how best to manage the situation. The one moment he was too ill to work, then he was “fine”, then we dismissed him, then we re-employed him, then he was getting a disability benefit, then he was getting nothing.
Rumours and stories abounded.
Sadly, like millions of others, he died too soon.
In 2004 more and more businesses needed more advice on how to deal with this ever-increasing scourge. I needed to better equip myself to give them that advice.
So back I went to Stellenbosch University and enrolled myself to do a PDM – a Postgraduate Diploma in the Management of HIV/AIDS in the Workplace.
It was a year-long course and a lot of hard work – juggling my own work, my home and family and studies, mainly over the internet, but also attending classes at MEDUNSA University, north of Pretoria (the erstwhile medical university for students other than white!), and Stellenbosch University.
Every two weeks I handed in an assignment of 5 to 10 pages based on piles of books and articles and many more hours of reading, comprehension, interpretation, summaries and writing. Twenty five assignments later, I obtained the qualification PDM with honours – cum laude.
On 4 April 2005 I was standing in the queue, with hundreds of other students, at Stellenbosch University’s indoor sports centre to be capped yet again. I felt like I was 20 years old all over again and it was only when the young girl standing with her friends behind me asked “Oom, sal jy ‘n foto van ons neem..” (Uncle, will you take a photo of us) that I came back to earth with a bump!
Now, armed with the theoretical experience and a qualification behind me, I teamed up with Stella Heuer of Ed-Unique AIDS in East London and we landed a contract with the Eastern Cape Education Department in mid-2005 to do HIV/AIDS training of teachers in the province.
I don’t know if we managed to stop, stem the tide or reverse the pandemic. In fact, I doubt if we did anything positive. But I did get to see one of the most beautiful parts of our country – the rolling hills of (the former) Transkei – Libode, Qumbu, Flagstaff, Lusikisiki, Mt Frere, Mt Ayliff, Tabankulu, Tsolo, Port St Johns, Umtata (Mtata), Engcobo. I also saw some of the poorest, squalid and neglected communities and dilapidated educational and health facilities that our country has to offer – the very breeding ground of the pitiful South African HIV/AIDS narrative.
I also saw South African politics at play!
Sadly, a year later, I became ill with CBD and my working days (and my aspirations to complete a Master’s Degree in the Management of HIV/AIDS) came to an end.
This week, in my effort to get rid of all the trappings and junk that I have accumulated during my lifetime, I tackled the boxes and files that contain my HIV/AIDS books, notes and assignments.
It is the end of another era in my lifetime – when, pray, will we see the end of the pandemic?