SOUTH AFRICA -
AIDS: A Silent Killer
A Hedgehog production
Dur: 4'45'' - June 1999
There is silence over the hills in Kwazulu Natal, SA's most populous province. But the silence around HIV is deafening, and strangling this young democracy. It is taboo to talk about the sickness and the sick and dying are often hidden away to die alone.
This AIDS afflicted woman is visited by nurses once or twice a week but apart from that nobody cares for her.
The AIDS epidemic in SA is the fastest growing in the world. Just a few houses away another family is suffering.
SOUND BITE: Nokuzola - 15 years, orphan
" My situation has really changed because I have no mother. I have heard that my mother was ill, I was not told what sickness but my grandmother said she was poisoned."
Together with her grandmother Nokozula cares for her siblings. Here at least 25 percent of the population carry the deadly virus. The young, and the very young are struck by it, including Nokozula's youngest brother.
INT: Dr Patrick McNeil - superintendent, Port Shepstone Hospital
"The extent of the epidemic has meant that it's become an overwhelming problem in all health and economic matters. It's rapidly starting to swamp the health service".
70% of the patients at this hospital have Aids related illnesses, like TB or pneumonia. If they are lucky they will get painkillers or antibiotics. But they will not get expensive antiviral drugs like AZT. The government say it can't afford them, not even to stop transmission from mother to unborn child.
In a recent press briefing, Mandela explained he tried back in 1991 to publicise the virus but was warned off talking about this sexual taboo.
SOUND BITE: Nelson Mandela
"I want to talk about AIDS and he said to me now this is the prinicpal. With a university degree, he says please don't. If you continue with this you will lose at the election. And of course I was scared of losing the election. So a massive campaign of education is absolutely necessary".
But despite a high profile campaign the government has not reached the most vulnerable. Instead, people like HIV positive Lucky are doing the job in communities bound by deep conservatism and intolerance.
SOUND UP: Lucky talking to the children
"You get HIV from sex. You pretend you don't know what I'm talking about, but I know you do! "
Lucky doesn't hide anything, sex must be discussed. She also warns the children about the risk of rape. There is a dangerous and widespread belief here that a man can rid himself of the virus if he has sex with child.
SOUND BITE: Lucky Barnabas - volunteer
"Looking at their age I covered abuse because of this myth that if you rape a young child then you get cured. So they have to be aware of sexual abuse as well as peer pressure, looking at their age, because that's when they start to experiment and experience other choices."
These children are privileged to meet such a brave person as Lucky. Not long ago another female volunteer was stoned to death by a mob when she revealed that she was HIV positive.
SOUND BITE: Patricia - 14 years
" I am still young and she ( mother ) does not know that I know about those things, I am scared to tell my mother. "
In the village, Nokozula and her sister wash and cook. They no longer go to school , there is too much work and no money. Such is the taboo surrounding AIDS here that their grandmother has yet to reveal the truth regarding their mother's death.
SOUND BITE: Mavis Nkonyeni - grandmother
"When I visited my daughter at the very end in hospital she was lying there dying. She said to me that they had found this sickness in her body and she said she had AIDS. I see a situation where all my children will die, this is the worst sickness in the world."
After supper the children visit their mother's hidden grave. They don't understand why their mother can't rest at the cemetery, but in this community children seldom dare to question.