UP hosts memorial to remember those lost to the AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics

Posted on December 09, 2022

The University of Pretoria, through the Employee Wellbeing Programme at UP ([email protected]) and the Centre for Human Rights, hosted a memorial service to commemorate World AIDS Day and to remember loved ones lost to the AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics.

The World Health Organisation designated 1 December as World AIDS Day in 1988 to raise awareness about the AIDS pandemic. Over the years a lot of progress has been made to make people aware of HIV/AIDS, preventing and curbing the spread of the virus as well as treating AIDS symptoms. However, there is still a long way to go when it comes to removing the stigma around HIV/AIDS.

This is what informed UP’s theme for this year’s World AIDS Day: “Stand UP against HIV/AIDS stigma because #UPCares.”

The memorial was aimed at remembering the losses that UP staff have experienced, both professionally and personally. Over the past three years, staff members – as the rest of the world – have experienced losses while in isolation from support structures as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. Therefore, the memorial service was aimed at providing an opportunity to stand in solidarity with colleagues, in remembrance of all loved ones who have passed away, especially during the COVID-19 years, regardless of the cause of death. 

During his address at the memorial which was held at UP’s Hatfield Campus Chapel, Professor Charles Maimela, Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Law at UP, spoke about the significance of staying in solidarity with those who are affected by the viruses.

“We gather here today to affirm and to stay in solidarity with all those who have survived to tell the story of both pandemics and make a difference in their communities, and to remember those we have lost,” he said.

This year’s international theme for World AIDS Day is “Equalise” – a call to leaders and citizens to recognise and address the inequalities holding back progress in ending AIDS and to equalise access to essential HIV services. In line with this is that when communities are informed and transparent about HIV/AIDS, it allows for the eradication of the stigma associated with the virus.

COVID-19 also came with its fair share of stigma and discrimination. Gabriela Pinheiro, Project Manager at the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender at UP said during pandemics, people often want to blame someone for the ill health and loss. She explained that people want someone to take the responsibility of the situation they find themselves in and that creates alienation and discrimination against certain people.

“Each one of us needs to act against inequality, hatred and alienation. We should not lose sight of collective action and healing.” Pinheiro said.

Deputy Director at Employee Relation and Wellness at UP, Advocate Eveline Molefe, when advocating against discrimination in the workplace said: “I have seen similarities in both HIV/AIDS and COVID-19; both viruses do not discriminate. They do not see colour, gender, sexual orientation or social status. Therefore, we are all under threat of contracting one or both viruses.”

Staff members and students were encouraged to seek psychological help from the University.

“UP staff members do not have to suffer alone. UP offers counselling services by trained professionals who will ensure that your right to confidentiality is protected,” said Adv. Molefe.

When sharing her experience with attendees at the memorial, Mosima Mokgopa, Residence Coordinator at UP said: “I challenge our Directors to implement the education of HIV in the different departments. Events such as this need to be full but they are not because people are still afraid of the HIV stigma.”

“Being HIV does not mean that you are sick or dying. You will only be sick if you are not on treatment. I have been living with HIV since 2008. I take my pill every day, which has led to me being undetectable and I am not transmittable,” she said.

The memorial ended with a candle-lit moment of silence in memory of the fallen staff members and loved ones.

- Author Prudance Minyuku
Published by Oratile Setshedi

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