Saturday 26 October 2013

Opinion: Tackling the Culture of Blacks Handling Disease

The taboos we must break
I found myself nodding in agreement to literally every line I read in this article published in The Body magazine – The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource – titled Breaking Through: HIV and African Americans.
If we removed HIV and replaced it with cancer, diabetes, hypertension, or misfortune, we would have subconsciously listed a sliding scale in terms in growing confidence to talk about how certain issues affect us.
Someone dying of the complications of HIV might only be able to accept that they are dying of cancer, the visible signs and sometimes along with diabetes means, we never attempt to ask more probing questions.
Our false stories
As I read the article, the writer informed that he had lost three relations, presumably African American to AIDS; two women, including his aunt and a man who insisted he was a heroin user when it was quite possible he was gay.
We have never been able to approach the reality of our diseases for the so many factors raised in that article. It is not just an African American thing; it is particularly African and probably broadly affects all non-Western cultures.
When I write blogs like this, I am wont to excerpting generous portions of the source material to make my points. However, I have decided we need to get the courage to begin to face the many issues that plague our communities as we suffer in silence, perpetuate the stigma and look at disease as the otherness that will never approach our steads.
We shock to numbness
We cannot deny that HIV/AIDS and cancer cuts a swathe through our communities like a wild forest fire that we treat as if it is insignificant, as our silence becomes a coping mechanism of convenience.
This means we fail to access health options and healthcare early enough for radical and timely intervention until it becomes an emergency exceeding effective medical treatment leaving us with just one option of palliative end-of-life care.
The story then becomes one of hospital visits, close family in shock at the apparently sudden deterioration in health of their relation as life slowly ebbs away no one the wiser about the truth until a nurse pulls one of the most affected relatives aside to say exactly what the diagnosis was. AIDS? Cancer? Usually not enemies scheming in the backyard, held at bay with Psalm 35.
There and then, the world collapses around every loved one and the questions start to flood the mind with prefixed inquisitive phrases of how long, how bad, how did, what can, how much – we have experienced this many times and yet we willingly hop on the vicious cycle of the culture of blacks handling disease badly.
The signs we ignore
We ignore the warning signs in the cause of the worry about the loss of our livelihood and the economic distress that accompanies a disease. Then visit our temples hoping and wishing for miracles with mountain-moving faith that had moves nothing more than the air that comes out of our mouths in fervent prayer, because we are in the mortal grip of fear; we rapidly approach an avoidable expiry date.
We listen to stories and conspiracies, we search for Shamanist cures in grottos that have defied the onslaught of civilisation and logic, imbibing awful concoctions too rotten for a recipe list and yet the temporary relief presages a catastrophic relapse before it is passed off in an obituary as a brief illness or a sudden death.
No fairy tale
These are the facts, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the “Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick” died of Karposi’s sarcoma, and it is a form of skin cancer usually brought on by AIDS.
His brother, a prominent AIDS activist and former minister of Health could only talk about AIDS affecting his family after the man had died. Nelson Mandela’s son also died of AIDS, but we only learnt of that after the fact.
As a cancer survivor, I know how much I have revealed about my condition and the secrets that I still keep for the fears, the shame, the stigma and many other attendant issues that dog our cultural outlook to disease.
Yet, as the article states, and this I will excerpt, “Magic Johnson has not been cured by some medicine being kept from us.
Ignoring our possibility
We can expect better medical outcomes if we talk, if we act or react immediately and seek professional advice when things are changing in our bodies that we cannot account for in our daily routine.
Karposi’s sarcoma as a result of HIV/AIDS complications was already treatable in the 1990s, and anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs manage HIV to the extent that people living with HIV can live very productive lives.
We cannot ignore our way round reality, nor can we bargain away disease with the false comfort of vows and the sudden laying on of hands; we need to accept first by understanding what we have* and that will inform the kinds of interventions that medicine or therapy can help us with, in a timely fashion.
[*This includes, HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, depression, mental illness, misfortune – tag anything you want to the list.]
Medicine is not evil and churches are not hospitals, but the beginning of dealing with the problem that plagues our community with the poison of silence is to read an article in a HIV/AIDS magazine about respected black women in the family dying of AIDS in today's America.
Finally, go for that test, it is about your life and keeping it.
Click on the link and read - The Body - Breaking Through: HIV and African Americans

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