DISEASE STIGMA 2012
Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in Dance for a Cure, a dance benefit aimed at protecting and supporting young South African ladies in the fight against cervical cancer by raising awareness and funds. Since 2007 all dancers, other artists, technicians, and friends involved in the show, do so on a pro-bono basis and all proceeds from ticket sales are used to fund an HPV (Human Papilloma virus) vaccination programme within the country.
According to the information represented on the Dance for a Cure website (http://www.danceforacure.co.za/), an estimated 5000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, while an estimated 3000 women are dying from this PREVENTABLE disease every year. Proudly, Dance for a Cure manages to vaccinate more and more children each year, not to mention raising awareness for many women to take control of their health with regular pap smears and getting themselves and their daughters vaccinated.
I myself was prompted by my performance in Dance for a Cure 2010 to get vaccinated, adding to that the benefit is an annual reminder for me to take care of my myself and my cervical cancer risk. By simply checking in with the Doc once a year, I can prevent an otherwise life threatening disease. To be fair though, I knew about the HPV virus and the vaccination, long before I knew about Dance for a Cure. Why then, was I not already vaccinated?
If I am honest, I knew I should go to the Doc and ask for the vaccination, but I was too shy and embarrassed. My thoughts were along the lines of; I don’t need the vaccination, because I am not a person that sleeps around. Clearly for me, there was a lot of STIGMA attached to receiving a cervical cancer vaccination. According to my thoughts, those that get HPV must have slept around. Of course this is not the case, and of course I knew this and still do know that this is not the case, but I was still afraid that this was the impression I was giving if I did ask for the vaccination.
Apparently, I am not the only person falling into this STIGMA trap. According to many published studies around the world, the stigmatization and shame around sexually transmitted diseases is one of the top reasons why people shy away from taking control over their sexual health. Thankfully being apart of a benefit that coupled dance and other beautiful art forms with cervical cancer and HPV vaccination, gave me the opportunity to re-programme my thoughts. I now view it for what it is; a completely preventable disease. Dance for a Cure is completely responsible for the eradication of my STIGMA, and the power I now possess over my life and sexual health. On a very personal level then, I owe a lot to Dance for a Cure, since I’m not convinced I would otherwise be vaccinated.
What an honor to be apart of something so amazing! Working with so many talented and dedicated people! HEART has a lot to learn from Dance for a Cure. While a vaccination against HIV is still pending, ARV’s for people living with HIV are available and awareness programmes around safe sex practice for HIV free people remains a high priority. However, just like in my own experience, while the information is out there and the drugs are available, studies show that people do not necessarily take control of their health and protect themselves against HIV by practicing safer sex, knowing their status and, or by adhering to ARV treatment. It is important for HEART and all those involved in HEART to consider now, the role they play in eradicating HIV related STIGMA through the use of the Arts.
“BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE” (Mahatma Ghandi – Indian political and spiritual leader)