Three years ago, the WETHEBRAVE.co.za campaign kicked off, asking gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) to be #BraveEnough to make healthy sexual choices like wearing a condom, getting tested regularly and knowing their status. Today, the large-scale, national sexual health campaign has, in partnership with Health4Men, been responsible for enabling over 490 000 men to be tested at MSM-friendly clinics and giving over 12 000 men access to HIV treatment.
“We are incredibly proud of all we have achieved in such a short space of time. MSM are South Africa’s most at-risk population for HIV acquisition and transmission. We are so pleased with the strides we have made in changing behaviour to encourage responsible sex, reduce HIV transmission and promote health-seeking behaviour,” says Nina Morris Lee, Head of Marketing at the Anova Health Institute which is spearheading the campaign, thanks to funding from the Elton John Aids Foundation. “Most importantly, however, we are thrilled to have made an impact on people’s lives.”
Monde Ngwane, a student who chairs a forum at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) College of Health Sciences, shares that WETHEBRAVE.co.za has played a large part in enabling their advocacy work in the MSM community. “A lot of people have now been enlightened about health tips, sexual safety and the resources available to them through WETHEBRAVE.co.za, particularly because of the way that the information is packaged and distributed. This is changing the way that we, as a community, relate to and access information.”
Fellow UKZN student, Sthembiso Mkhize, first heard about the WETHEBRAVE.co.za campaign at an event held on campus. “They taught us about having safe sex, how to use condoms and how we could access medical services for our sexual health. Because of the way that they shared the information, I was able to listen properly and now I practice safe sex.”
Over the past three years, WETHEBRAVE.co.za has addressed HIV prevention and treatment issues in an affirming, non-judgemental and sex-positive way that is also entertaining and engaging. One of the many interesting and exciting ways it has done so was by teaming up with fashion designer Stiaan Louw to design a limited-edition range of underwear for a campaign called ‘Cover Your Butt’. This coincided with the announcement that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication was readily available in South Africa. If taken daily, by HIV negative individuals, PrEP can drastically reduce the chances of HIV infection. The campaign brought to life the concept that HIV prevention could become as easy and routine as changing one’s underwear.
By Bruce J. Little
Having shingles is no joke. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and even if you’ve already had chickenpox, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from ever getting shingles.
Once you’ve had chickenpox the virus stays in your body forever and if you are elderly, your immune system becomes weak, or you get very stressed, the virus can get reactivated, which can cause a case of shingles. Luckily, it’s easy to treat, and you can get treated for shingles at a Health4Men Clinic near you, for free.
What is shingles? At first, it appears as a rash on an area of your skin. It can appear as a patch or a band around one section of your body, but it doesn’t appear all over the body as chickenpox does. It rarely crosses the mid-line of the body i.e. the blisters occur on one side or the other but not both The rash gradually becomes a series of red blisters and these eventually dry out and then flake off. Shingles can be very painful and can also be accompanied by itching, tingling, headaches and swollen glands under the arms and around the throat. Some people also develop sores on their genitals. You should go to your nearest doctor or clinic if you have any of these symptoms.
If you have a weak immune system or you are HIV-positive and are not receiving ARV treatment, you may be more vulnerable to reactivation of the chickenpox virus,which causes shingles.
You can get shingles if your immune system is weak and you are exposed to someone who has the chickenpox or shingles virus. When someone has a shingles skin rash, especially if blisters are present, then that person is very contagious to anyone who has never had shingles or chickenpox before. The fluid in the blisters contains a large amount of chickenpox virus which is transmittable.
Most cases of shingles go away by themselves after about three weeks, but pain medication and antiviral medication can help to speed up the healing process and make it a lot less painful. Proper treatment also lowers the risk of residual pain which sometimes occurs even after the rash has healed.
Isolation and loneliness are hazardous to your health. Studies show that depression caused by feelings of alienation and isolation can be as harmful to your health as obesity, or chugging half a pack of cigarettes a day!
Health4Men is currently running a campaign encouraging men who have sex with men to go and get tested for HIV with a close friend, for support. It’s based on the premise that we are braver when we do things together. But this is not just a great strategy for how to deal with the anxiety you may have about your HIV status; it’s also a good strategy when it comes to your mental health too. Here are a few points to ponder that will help you to reach out and connect with someone if you need to, for your good mental health:
• Everybody hurts some times. Feeling lonely is very common, and almost everyone will experience it from time to time. Things happen in our childhood that makes us feel abandoned for some or other reason, and then, when we get older, something random can trigger a memory of this feeling of abandonment, and so we become overwhelmed with a feeling of isolation or aloneness. It’s important to remember at these times that loneliness is often just a feeling and not a fact. You may feel lonely, but in truth, there are probably many people who would love the opportunity to connect with you, given the opportunity.
• Connecting with other people is the best way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. The reason that group therapy has such a great success rate is that we all respond much better to treatment or challenges when we feel that we are “all in this together”. Being part of a collective reminds us that we are in fact not alone, which is something that depression and reclusive behaviour can allow us to start to believe is true. Joining a yoga group or a hiking society can make a world of difference to your outlook on life.
• Get over yourself. Obsessing over your life and how you feel about it can actually aggravate feelings of alienation and despair. Try to focus on others for a while and see things from their perspective. You may become inspired by how bravely other people are battling their fears and personal demons. Compassion is a strange thing, when we have compassion for others, it causes others to start treating us in a similar way, and nothing can connect two souls better than cars of compassion running on a two-way street. Kindness is the same. Relationships and marriages that work for many years have been founded on good habits of treating one another with kindness.
By Bruce J. Little
Not sure if it’s me getting older and more set in my ways, or just wishful thinking, but I am finding it so much easier to be single this time around. I know, I know… When someone goes on about how “happy” they are to be single, it’s usually a case of trying to convince others to try and convince yourself. But this time it really isn’t all that bad! In fact, it has its awesome moments. It only took me five minutes back on the “Grind” as a new singleton to see how many people in open relationships there are in Jozi alone. Plench! And I’ve come to realise that relationships and how we define them are rapidly mutating and changing to meet our needs. It’s exciting to think that I can define the boundaries of my next relationship to suit my needs as well as those of my partner. We won’t have to conform to anybody else’s standards. But I’m in no rush for that to happen because my current singular status has its benefits. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being someone’s boyfriend. I loved the nesting and cuddling and Netflix and chilling, but I’m also really enjoying being able to watch whatever I feel like watching now. I have a lot of freedom at the moment and can do whatever I feel like whenever I feel like doing it, and it’s quite rad. Being a considerate person, I find myself regularly considering the person I am in a relationship with. But at present I can be selfish and consider myself. I’m taking it easy and it’s great. I’m taking care of myself, working on improving and building myself up. I’m giving myself TLC and I’ve come to realise that it’s something that I do very well. I’ve always known that I have a lot of love to give, and now I’m enjoying reflecting some of that good stuff back at myself.
There are so many options open to me. I can go on dates, or I can stay at home in my PJs watching series and eating almond butter out of the jar, if that’s what I want to do. Because I like to keep having options, I always ensure that I have condoms and water-based lube somewhere on hand or in my car’s cubbyhole, just in case “summin summin” should come up. I also make sure I replace them regularly and don’t let them expire. I’m not really big on one-night-stands anymore. I can be as frigid as a Friar or represent the “hoe is life” philosophy and embrace “Hoeism” if taken by the spirit at a later stage, and what’s more? I can change these states of mind from day to day as it suits me.
If I eventually do start to lean more towards the “Hoeism” side of the spectrum I could also consider the possibility of going on PrEP. I have choices. I have a lot of power to decide these things for myself and it feels good being able to exercise these choices. No man is an island, but at this stage of my journey I am finding that being just one is a load of fun.
Bruce J. Little is a contributing writer for Anova Health Institute. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.
The Anova Health Institute welcomes the move by the Medicines Control Council (MCC) after they officially registered the use of a combination of two antiretroviral drugs as a form of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication. This pill, taken daily by the HIV negative individuals, can drastically reduce HIV infection.
Prof James McIntyre, CEO of Anova, says: “This is a major advance in HIV prevention in South Africa, with the potential to save many lives. The evidence is clear, PrEP works if you take it. Not everyone will need or want PrEP, or require it forever, but it can provide almost complete protection against infection if taken consistently. Our challenge is to educate users and move rapidly to ensure access for those who need it.”
Dr Kevin Rebe, Specialist Medical Consultant at Anova’s Health4Men Initiative, says: “The approval of PrEP is a major step forward in the fight against HIV. It is extremely effective and safe to use. It can reduce the risk of HIV by more than 90% in HIV negative people who use it correctly. This announcement will greatly facilitate the work that Anova conducts in HIV prevention. Our challenge now is to create demand for PrEP and to work towards removing barriers to access.”
Anova, in collaboration with the Desmond Tutu HIV Research Unit, already has a PrEP demonstration project underway within state sector clinics. Anova is working to develop tools that will allow PrEP to be nurse-driven and scaled up by the Department of Health.
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