Open letter to the Minister of Health

Your media and advertising messages on HIV and AIDS where you are encouraging the use of condoms are confusing. The adverts seem to suggest that people with multiple sexual partners are engaged in normal love relationships. The way it is portrayed, this lifestyle choice has little effect on one’s happiness or joy in life. Once everyone’s attention has been taken, the adverts casually ask if they have thought about AIDS. Are we serious? In real life the elderly men who pick up young girls do not do so transparently as your adverts suggest. These shameful activities are pursued in dark corners where the perpetrators can look behind their backs to make sure no one is following them. Sir, what you are advertising on television and on billboards in Lusaka are not normal or healthy sexual relationships between committed adults. We need a pragmatic approach to this serious issue.

A few months ago I stumbled on a no-nonsense approach on Yahoo news. An adult film performer in Southern California tested positive for HIV and as a result the multi-billion dollar adult film industry was shut down until the performer was retested. The article stated that, “A series of tests were being conducted on the performer to confirm the case before anyone the performer might have spread the illness to will be notified to get tested.”  The article further mentioned that “if the initial case is confirmed, the group will ask two generations of the person’s sexual partners to get tested, meaning those who had sex with the performer and the sexual partners of those who had sex with the performer.”

Sir, this story happened under the watch of the USA government. Look at their approach. The decision was fast, focused and tough. HIV and AIDS in the USA is hardly the challenge it is for Zambia yet in this country we are acting like it is normal for elderly parents to have relations with young women…as long as they use a condom. What are we trying to communicate to our young people? It is okay to participate in risky sexual exploits as long as you don’t get AIDS?! If a condom manufacturer was running these advertisements one could understand. But the government should not participate in glamourizing and promoting immoral behaviour.

Sir, I recommend that the resources spent to promote condoms be used to promote positive expressions of life and love. Let us highlight examples of true greatness in people who have quietly chiseled character into their lives through steadfastness and commitment to one partner. Let us use advertisements to promote our cultural values of virginity, fidelity, love and respect. Zambia has many individuals and families who embody these values and would be humbled to share their testimonies in the media. Our goal is to help young people embrace a vision for their life and for our nation. We do this by helping them identify their talents and interests and by promoting good character. To promote lasting change we must emphasize good character and integrity.

Sir, I am at a loss that our government can use such immoral scripts to encourage the use of condoms. We should use scripts that teach mutual responsibility, self control, fairness, inherent dignity and the value of human life in order to envision our people to zero new AIDS infections. I pray that your future adverts will accurately reflect the devastating effect that AIDS has had on our national peace and joy and that it is in our power to stop it.

Lawrence Temfwe