Media must push the power of ART

  • Kim Johnson - 7 December 2012

Given her chequered history as a “positive” role model, DRUM’s uncritical representation of Lesego Motsepe as a triumphant and shining example of someone living with HIV might be an irresponsible move.

A four page spread on former soapie star Motsepe in this week’s DRUM magazine seems to suggest that her current state of well being is solely the result of positive thinking, prayer and a suitably vague “holistic approach.”

Mental health as it relates to HIV has recently become a hot topic, with experts recognising that people living with HIV are more vulnerable to mental health problems ranging from depression to dementia.

However DRUM’s narrow focus on psychological, emotional and even spiritual aspects in explaining why Motsepe is “stronger than ever”, comes at the expense of mentioning life-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART).

ART has been scientifically proven to control HIV infection, ensuring longevity and quality of life for people living with HIV.

Whilst the mental health aspects of living with HIV are crucially important, treatment remains is a vital and necessary precursor to living healthily with HIV.

Overall DRUM’s emphasis on prayer and positive thinking and its neglect of the importance of ART combined with Motsepe’s previous public rejection of ART, could unwittingly communicate a message to readers that ART is not necessary in order to live a long, happy and healthy life when you have HIV.

This suggestion is especially dangerous considering perceptions of ART remain on shaky ground and adherence to ART continues to blight treatment efforts in South Africa.

Indeed the personal story of Mumsy in the Daily Sun this week is proof that ART is vital in maintaining the health of people living with HIV.

According to the Daily Sun, Mumsy stopped taking ARVs, because like many South Africans she fell prey to the misconception that a person can stop taking treatment when their health improves.

As a result of defaulting on her treatment, Mumsy can no longer walk and is cared for by her elderly mother.

To give credit where credit is due, DRUM’s journalist did hazard a question or two on Motsepe’s controversial (and very public) rejection of ART treatment in favour of a “holistic regimen”, which included meditation and late Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s infamous garlic and beetroot diet.

But Motsepe rebuffed these questions and no further attempts were made to engage the issue of ART.

Communicating the importance of ART and adherence to ART needn’t have involved Motsepe ‘toeing the line’.

The inclusion of a doctor’s comment, reinforcing that ART is essential in controlling HIV infection and keeping HIV-positive people healthy, would have done the job.

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“The inclusion of a doctor’s comment, reinforcing that ART is essential in controlling HIV infection, would have done the job”