Social workers are paramount in the fight against HIV and AIDS pandemic


As the scourge of HIV/AIDS continue with its virulent march threatening to annihilate human race on the face of the earth, the call to rise up and wrestle it has never sounded so profoundly more so in the face of tragic reality that none of us is immune from infection.

HIV/AIDS is truly the holocaust of our times that is ravaging populations albeit slowly but viciously. The disease was first detected in the early eighties among high-risk groups of homosexuals, commercial sex workers and the intravenous drug users in the major cities of the developed World.

At its formative years of discovery, AIDS was restricted to the said risky groups and was little known to the general populace. AIDS has been one disease shrouded in immense mystery, myths and fears.

The origin of the HIV virus that causes AIDS has defied even the most complex medical science and it is no wonder that even to date, scientists are still groping in the dark giving speculations on the origin of this deadly virus.

Away from the origins of the HIV/AIDS, the current situation demands serious redress on a disease which two decades after its discovery, has claimed about 20 millions lives and close to forty million people are now infected with the HIV virus.

The casualty of HIV/AIDS gives a gory picture as people die in the prime of their lives to be separated tragically from their communities, family and nations.

HIV/AIDS is taking the heaviest casualty on the youthful populations between the ages of 15-49.This segment of the population which is productive in every sense is vanishing at an alarming rate due to AIDS.

The same population is the bedrock of our society and is our very spring board to catapult our countries to greater heights of social, political and economic development.

HIV/AIDS is a disease of the youth

In Africa where AIDS has found an underbelly to blossom and spread its deadly tentacles, the disease is consuming young people before they reach their thirtieth birthday. AIDS is projecting a very bleak and doomed future to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As for now, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for two thirds of HIV/AIDS infections the World over and close to thirty million people are infected with the virus in the region. The bulk of infections are 65% among the youths aged 15-24 years.

Poverty, ignorance and an intricate web of social-cultural factors have all conspired to make AIDS reign terror on the African youths. HIV/AIDS is the face of the youth in Africa and our societies have never been threatened with extinction like they are today due to alarming deaths of the youth due to AIDS.

As the youths die at alarming rate, our demographic patterns are experiencing dramatic changes whereby the old people and orphaned children are now occupying homesteads.

That the youths are the pillar of any society cannot be debated further and represents every dream, aspiration, progress and future of any society.

The youths represent bulk of workforce, professionals, politicians and future leaders. Due to AIDS, Africa is being robbed off its future.

The Continent hangs on a dangerous precipice as AIDS ravages millions of people in the prime of their lives when they are most needed to contribute their energies to towards their Nations social -political and economic progress.

As most countries grapple with the effects of HIV/AIDS, the aftermath is as tragic as doomsday itself. On the social front, gloom hangs over the future of whole societies as the number of deaths continue to pile up leading to a natural population decline.

The institution of family, which happens to be the bedrock of the society, has never been threatened like it is now due to AIDS. Children have been tragically separated from their parents at extremely young age.

Our countries are now grappling with rise in the number of AIDS orphans, which poses a grave threat to the stability of the society.

Millions of orphaned children are now loitering in bleak existence not knowing where their future lies. They are being left to fend for themselves and to nurture themselves even when they are too young and inexperienced to handle demanding responsibilities.

Widows and widowers are also filling the cup of misery that Aids is raining in Africa. The cruel devastation of HIV/AIDS in Africa clearly reminisces renaissance Europe in the 15th Century when Bubonic plague visited untold terror on the population in an era where medical science was not yet sophisticated enough to tackle such maladies.

The inertia, apathy and brazen ignorance that held people captive in those medieval ages provided a fertile ground for such epidemics to wreak terror on the populations.

HIV/AIDS devastation has not spared the Economic sector too. The fragile economies of most African Countries are threatened due to immense loss of productive workforce due to AIDS.

Companies are loosing workers alarmingly and are spending enormous resources to train and replace more. Key sectors of the Economy like Agriculture, Education and the service sector are now blighted by the AIDS pandemic.

Africa still remains an economic basket case when compared to the rest of the World and it is tragic to realise that we cannot jumpstart our economies if the very people who should be in the frontline are either dead or dying from AIDS. Our overstretched health sector is reeling from the burden of AIDS pandemic.

Quality health care which is a distant dream to our poor countries is further worsening the gloomy scenario and it is no coincidence that majority of AIDS patients are dying faster because they are too poor to ill afford the cost of medication like the now popular ART that can help them manage the disease and live longer.
AIDS still remain as before the disease of the poor.

It is the poor in the rural areas and the slums that are bearing full brunt. The poor people and vulnerable have become an easy target for this venomous disease.

HIV/AIDS has visited enough havoc on the African continent and it would not be feasible for us to rest on our laurels and watch in silence and despair as the tragic drama unfolds.

The reality of the day is that AIDS is here with us but the effort to tackle it and reverse its deadly march calls more profoundly.

We must not let fear and apathy overwhelm us but must rise to the occasion and galvanise every weapon to fight this modern day plague.

As the call to accelerate the war against HIV/AIDS rings loud, the need to embrace Social workers and incorporate them in the fight echoes even louder.

The Social work profession is extremely paramount to any society. Social workers provide an invaluable service to our social fabric.

The war against HIV/AIDS due to its magnitude cannot be fought single handedly and require a cross-section of soldiers drawn from many fields.

The clarion call from authoritative voices involved in the fight against AIDS has been the need to involve people in the grassroots in the campaigns against HIV/AIDS and here social workers comes in handy because their line of duty demands them to be on the ground working with the communities.

Social workers are instrumental actors in reaching the AIDS message since they are able to access people directly even in the remotest outposts.

As has often been alluded, the war against AIDS has failed to bear fruit whenever the government and other actors adopt a top-bottom approach by designing and dictating to communities which models to use in the fight against the epidemic instead of engaging the people as worthy partners in the war and not mere spectators.

The strength of the Social worker fraternity lies in the fact that these professionals have proved to be outright down to earth, accessible and more accommodating to the people especially the poor, youths, women and children who are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infections.

Social work profession does not involve much red tape and therefore can be very effective in carrying out advocacy and campaigns against HIV/AIDS.

Where the Government is unable to reach the people in the AIDS fight due to bureaucratic backlog, social workers are called in to exploit the vacuum.

Social workers are represented in every village, slum or any other remote hovel around the country. They are people’s professionals and can easily relate with all and sundry without much qualms.

The campaigns against HIV/AIDS are yet to be exhausted and needs to be accelerated further owing to the fact that section of people in the remote areas have not yet received adequate information on the scourge.

We require social workers to march forth and reach these forgotten frontiers with the AIDS message.
The care and treatment of HIV/AIDS has gained popularity in recent times and concerned actors are laying immense emphasis on the two.

Millions of AIDS patients are in our custody and that is a reality we cannot sweep under the carpet. These people require our attention as they grapple with the disease.

Quality treatment and care is very paramount to any AIDS sufferer and more often it has been proved that with the right medication and proper diet, emotional, spiritual and psychological support, a person suffering from AIDS can live longer.

Today, the Antiretroviral therapy popularly known as ART is giving millions of AIDS patients a sense of hope. Even though the treatment does not offer cure, it is worthy in prolonging the life of the victims.

Besides the Antiretroviral therapy, AIDS patients require adequate intake of food rich in nutrients. They also require unequivocal emotional and spiritual support.

The case for psychosocial support is very paramount especially because stigma and other negative attitudes from the society has made life a living hell to most Aids sufferers.

In most African communities, AIDS victims faces savage social stigma and are often shunned, abused or even disowned by their close family and friends.

As we grapple with the overwhelming demand to treat and care for the AIDS sufferers, the invaluable service of social workers can help ease the burden if they join hands with communities and help them address the challenge.

Social workers can assist community-based organizations with skills on how best to care for the AIDS victims. They can also work with families and advice them on how to offer the best of care to their infected kinfolk.

Social workers are endowed with immense social skills and through their charm, wit and interactive abilities, they can preach the gospel of condemning stigma so that people desist from regarding AIDS patients as outcasts but rather embrace them as their own.

As we intensify the war against HIV/AIDS, our scorecard will reflect more on whether we have agreed to incorporate social workers that at the end of the day will determine our victory or failure in this gigantic battle.

The need therefore to look at this profession afresh and give it the prominence it deserves has never resonated so powerfully especially when we consider the precious input these professionals offer to the entire Country.

We ca no longer afford to relegate these professionals to the periphery like we have done in the past. The Government is called upon to strengthen the social work sector by availing enough resources to make the profession robust.

Social workers in the past have been the scum of the earth among civil servants. They have endured years of neglect and have been left to rot in poverty.

It is very unfortunate that the very people our Government uses to propagate its social programmes in the grassroots are treated shabbily and abject squalor has been their hallmark.

The Government must be reminded again that the success of its many programmes including the fight against HIV/AIDS lies with recognition that only social workers have the requisite skills to implement the said programmes to their fruitful end.

The donor community fortunately has started waking up to the realisation that only by involving people in the grassroots directly can the many donor-funded programmes succeed.

The bottom-up approach to addressing various challenges affecting communities is now a buzzword. Donors are now unanimous that it is no longer viable to conduct affairs by sitting in ivory towers and the only option is to walk the walk.

Borne out of that conviction; therefore, there is need for the donor community to avail more funding to the social work sector which happens to represent the grassroot wholly.

Social workers still remain the foot soldiers, devoted, willing and alert to here the trumpet call to rise up fast and attend to the call to save humanity from its overwhelming challenges.

The writer is a journalist based in Nairobi and specialises on topical issues like health, gender and development

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