Isle group fights
shame of AIDS

The problems of shame and stigma associated with HIV in South Africa also exist in Hawaii, says Paul Groesbeck, Life Foundation executive director.

Nelson Mandela announced Thursday that his 54-year-old son, Makgatho Mandela, had died of AIDS in a Johannesburg clinic.

Speaking at a news conference there, Mandela called for more publicity for HIV-AIDS and not to "hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody died of HIV-AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary."

An estimated five million South Africans have AIDS, but families usually attribute deaths to another disease because of shame and stigma, according to the Life Foundation, established on Oahu in 1983 to stop the spread of HIV and help people living with HIV-AIDS.

Groesbeck said, "Many of our HIV-positive clients are ashamed to tell their friends and family that they have HIV. The lack of openness about the disease in our community keeps HIV-positive individuals from getting life-saving medical treatments, and also hinders prevention efforts to keep people from contracting HIV in the first place."

Mandela has said he failed to recognize the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic when he was president of South Africa. Since leaving office he has been trying to fight the taboo associated with the disease.

Life Foundation has begun an Anti-Stigma Campaign to combat shame and stigma surrounding HIV-AIDS on Oahu.

"I'll never forget when a woman came up to me and whispered in my ear that her son had died of cancer but he had a touch of AIDS," Groesbeck said.

"In the year 2005, no one should die of shame."

For information about HIV/ AIDS or services offered by the Life Foundation for people living with the virus, call 521-AIDS (521-2437).

Life Foundation

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