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A guide to AIDS

Some people might find some of the pictures  in this story offensive. Because AIDS is a serious, incurable and deadly disease we had to use  them. Our aim is to help people understand how this disease can be  prevented.


SEMEN – the liquid that comes from the penis during sex.

VAGINAL SECRETIONS – fluid that comes from the vagina.

SEX DISEASES – also called venereal diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, or STD. Any sicknesses which can be spread through sex.

SYPHILIS – a sexually transmitted disease which can affect both men and women. Syphilis can be cured.

ANAL SEX -when a man puts his penis into the anus (the backside) of another man or a woman.

ORAL SEX – when there is contact between the mouth and the penis or vagina. ·

MENSTRUAL BLOOD – a woman’s normal monthly flow of blood through her vagina.

BLOOD TRANSFUSION – when a doctor puts blood from one person into someone else’s body.

CONTRACEPTION – ways of preventing pregnancy, for example, with condoms or the Pill.

ABORTION – an operation to end a pregnancy.

GAY – a person who has sex with someone of the same sex. Gay people are sometimes called homosexual (for men) or lesbian (for women).

GONORRHOEA – this is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Both men and women can catch it, mainly from sex with a person who already has it. There is a cure which works well if the infected person is treated as soon as the sickness starts.

FORESKIN – the loose skin at the tip of the penis in an uncircumcised man.



There is no injection or medicine to protect you from the AIDS germ and no cure for the AIDS sickness.

Scientists say that it will take at least five years to find a way of curing people with AIDS. Even then, most people with AIDS will probably not get the drugs and treatment they need because there are not enough hospitals and clinics in South Africa, especially in the rural areas. Also, Aids may not be discovered in many of those who do go to hospitals and clinics, because of the shortage of doctors and nurses and the general low standard of health in this country.

At the beginning of the sickness you can …

  1. get a swelling of the glands in your neck, between your legs, or in your armpits

  2. get fevers or the shivers, or night-sweats

  3. quickly lose more than 5kg for no obvious reason

  4. get diarrhoea for more than two weeks at a time

  5. feel very tired all the time

  6. have a sore mouth and throat for a long time

When the sickness Is fully developed …

the AIDS germ kills the white blood cells which normally fight other sicknesses. This makes the body weak when other sicknesses attack it. A person with full AIDS can get one of the following sicknesses, and one of them will eventually cause death. (If you have one or some of these sicknesses, it does not always mean that you have AIDS).

  1. Fevers and diarrhoea that will not stop

  2. An unusual kind of pneumonia

  3. Cancer of the skin or mouth-pink and purple marks show up

  4. Sicknesses of the brain and nerves. You can get paralysed or lose your memory, speech, balance or understanding

  5. Tuberculosis (TB)

  6. Kidney and liver diseases

  7. Herpes


Some people who get the AIDS germ will not get the sickness straight away. During this time, they do not know they have the germ, but they can give it to other people. These people are called “AIDS carriers”. This is one of the biggest problems with the AIDS germ. People who do not know they have the germ can pass it on to others, so the disease spreads. Doctors believe that all AIDS carriers will finally become ill with AIDS after 8 to 15 years.


Scientists have made a blood test for the AIDS germ. The test looks for evidence of the AIDS germ in a person’s blood.

When the AIDS germ gets into your blood, your body produces antibodies which try to fight the AIDS germ. The AIDS test looks for these antibodies in your blood. If it finds these antibodies, it knows the AIDS germ is also in your blood. A test which finds these anti-bodies is called a positive test.

There are some problems with the AIDS test. The test will not find the antibodies for 6 weeks after the person has been infected. If you are worried that you have AIDS, you must have at least 3 tests over a period of months before the test can say for sure if you have it.

It can be a terrible shock to find out that your AIDS test is positive. You can worry that you might get sick and die at any time. But maybe you will not get sick for a long time. It is important that you are given a good explanation of what AIDS is before you have the test, so that you can be prepared for the results.

If the test is positive, this must be carefully explained. A trained person must talk to an AIDS positive person about their feelings and worries.

The Government Department of Health and Population Development has recognised the importance of these points in a recent book on AIDS called: “HIV and AIDS: CLINICAL FACTS FOR THE MEDICAL PROFESSION: Dept. of Health and Population Development, November 1988.

The book says: “All HIV antibody testing should always be done with the informed consent of the patient and should be accompanied by counselling before and after the test”.


The AIDS germ can only move from one person to another in certain body liquids – you can get it if someone else’s blood, semen, vaginal secretions enter into your blood. Mother’s milk can also carry the AIDS germ, which can infect babies.

  1. You can get AIDS by having sex with an AIDS carrier.

  2. Pregnant mothers can give AIDS to their babies while the baby is in the womb.

  3. You can get AIDS by injecting yourself with a needle which has been used by someone who has the AIDS germ.

  4. Most people who get the AIDS germ get it by having sex with someone who already has It.

  5. Here are the main ways that AIDS is transmitted during sex with an AIDS carrier.


  1. The AIDS germ can live in semen. A woman can catch the AIDS germ if infected semen enters her vagina.

  2. A woman can also catch the AIDS germ when she has oral sex with a man if she has cuts or sores in her mouth

  3. If the man has sores on or around his penis, or if the woman has sores in or around her vagina, she can catch the AIDS germ more easily from the man. Other sex diseases like herpes can cause sores like this.

  4. If a man has anal sex with a woman, she can catch the AIDS germ. This is the most dangerous type of sex from the point of view of AIDS.


  1. The AIDS germ can live in a woman’s vaginal secretion. If this secretion enters a man’s penis or mouth during sex, he can catch the germ.

  2. If the woman has sores in or around her vagina, or if the man has sores on or around his penis, he can catch the AIDS germ more easily from the woman.

  3. Menstrual blood from an infected woman can also pass on the AIDS germ.


  1. If a male AIDS carrier has anal sex with another man, this man can catch the AIDS germ. This is the most dangerous form of sex from the point of view of catching the AIDS germ.

  2. Oral sex man to man has the same dangers as oral sex between a man and woman.


  1. There have been no women recorded who have caught the AIDS germ from sex with other women.

  2. In theory, the germ can spread from woman to woman if blood or vaginal secretions from a female AIDS carrier come into contact with cuts or open sores on the fingers, mouth or vagina of another woman.


Rape is sexual violence, usually by men against women or girls, but also sometimes by men against men or boys. If the rapist is an AIDS carrier, then the victim can get the AIDS germ. There may be a greater risk because the victim can have their vagina or anus torn by the rapist. The AIDS germ can then easily pass into the blood this way.

  1. It is very difficult to catch the AIDS germ from someone if you do not have sex with them.

  2. You have more chance of getting the AIDS germ if you have sex with a lot of people because sex is the main way that the AIDS germ spreads.

  3. The more people you have sex with, the bigger your chance of catching (and passing on) AIDS.


If a woman has the AIDS germ or the sickness, she can give it to her babies. This can happen while the woman is pregnant. It can also happen at the moment of birth, when the woman’s blood touches the baby as it comes into the world. It can also happen when the baby feeds from the breast, because the AIDS germ can live in a mother’s milk.

In some other countries doctors have found children who have the AIDS germ, and small children with the AIDS sickness. This can make their bodies deformed, and can stop them from growing and developing properly. It can also give them permanent diarrhoea.

In South Africa, doctors have reported over 30 children with AIDS. If we ignore the AIDS threat, many more children will become victims. Both men and women need knowledge to protect their children from AIDS. Although scientists say that the AIDS germ can be found in breast milk, they do not know if this is an extra danger to babies born to women with the AIDS germ.

Therefore, it is more important that mothers breastfeed their babies than worry about giving them AIDS.

As AIDS begins to spread in South Africa, more women and their babies will get AIDS. It is very difficult for some women with AIDS to get contraception, or an abortion, especially in the rural areas. It can be even more difficult to get an AIDS test. The health services, especially in the rural areas, badly need improvement to cope with these problems.


Some people take dangerous drugs by giving themselves injections with a needle. Drugs like heroin, cocaine, and opium can be taken like this.

If you take drugs this way, it is dangerous to share a needle with someone else, because you can get someone else’s blood into your body. If you or the person you share the needle with is an AIDS carrier, the germ can be passed on this way. You must have your own needle if you cannot stop injecting drugs.

If a doctor or a nurse gives you an injection, they always have a new needle for each injection, and throw away the old needles ­so you don’t get the AIDS germ when a doctor or nurse gives you an injection.


The blood transfusion service takes blood from volunteers, and gives it to people when they need it. The giving of blood to a sick or injured person is called a transfusion. Because the AIDS germ lives in human blood, it is possible to catch it by having a transfusion of blood taken froman AIDS carrier.

In South Africa, all the blood in the transfusion service is tested for the AIDS germ. This means .that you can only get AIDS from a transfusion if the blood came from a person who gave their blood before the tests were started. Very few people in South Africa have got the AIDS germ from transfusion, and there will be no new cases as long as the blood banks continue to test for AIDS.

YOU CANNOT catch the AIDS germ by giving blood at the transfusion service

YOU CANNOT get AIDS if a person with the AIDS germ sneezes or coughs near you.

YOU CANNOT get AIDS from an insect bite, such as a mosquito.

YOU CANNOT get AIDS if a person with AIDS touches you, washes you or cuts your hair, shaves you, embraces you, kisses you on the cheek, or punches you.

YOU CANNOT get AIDS if a person with AIDS wears the same clothes as you, sits in the same chair, or sleeps in the same bed as you.

YOU CANNOT get AIDS if a person with AIDS washes in the same water as you, or uses the same toilet as you.


  1. Don’t sleep with many different people.

  2. If you have a lot of sexual relationships, use a condom.

  3. Before you start a new sexual relationship, ask your partner about his or her past sex life.

  4. Prostitutes are in danger from AIDS, and can also pass it on. They need the right to AIDS education without victimisation. They can also demand that men who go to them must use condoms.

  5. Get involved in AIDS education in your trade union or community organisation.


  1. If you use them properly, they are quite an effective way of preventing pregnancy.

  2. They can protect men and women from the AIDS germ, or any other sex disease like syphilis, herpes or gonorrhoea.

Condoms must be used properly if they are going to protect people from sex diseases like AIDS.


If you think you need to protect your partner and yourself against the AIDS germ use a condom every time you have sex.

Condoms come in different types. Some are stronger than others. Use one of the stronger ones – these are less likely to break when you have sex.

The condom must be put on to the penis of the man before he penetrates his partner.

If the man is not circumcised, the foreskin should be pulled back before he puts the condom on his penis.

When you take it out of the packet, the condom looks like a ring made of rubber.

The end of the ring should be put over the end of the penis, and the condom must be rolled down the penis.

After sex, do not wait long before you and your partner separate. The man should hold the condom onto his penis while separating from his partner.

Throw the condom away after sex. You must never use it again.

You can use a special gel on the condom. This is called lubricant gel. You can ask about this at a chemist. This will protect the condom from damage while you are having sex. Do not use vaseline or petroleum jelly because this can damage the condom.

Keep your condoms in a cool, dry place before you use them.

Do not use condoms that are old. Throw these away.


The World Health Organisation has said that 8 million people have the AIDS germ. This is about 5 times the number of people in Johannesburg and Soweto put together.

By June 1989, there were a total of 226,294 people with AIDS reported to the World Health Organisation. According to the World Health Organisation, two years from now, there will be about 2 million people with AIDS sickness in the world. All of these people have already got the AIDS germ. In four years from now, many of them will already have died from AIDS.

This is a very serious health problem, especially because everyone who has the AIDS sickness will die if scientists do not find a cure.

In South Africa, the problem of AIDS is just beginning. By July 1990, there were 455 people reported with AIDS sickness. 215 of these people have already died, and there are new cases every day. Doctors say that there are over 65 000 people in South Africa with the AIDS germ. These figures are probably lower than the real figures.

AIDS is new in South Africa, but the number of people with the AIDS sickness more than doubles every year. It is important to do something to stop the spread of disease.


No-one knows how many people have the AIDS germ or the AIDS sickness in Africa, but the number is very large, and AIDS is an extremely serious health problem in Central and East African countries.

Many people with the sickness never get to a doctor or hospital, and not all doctors know about AIDS: In some Central and East African countries, the health services do not have enough money to test blood for the AIDS germ, so it is impossible to know how many people have the germ. Also, more people can get the AIDS germ from having blood transfusions in these countries because the transfusion service does not always have the money and technical staff to test the blood for AIDS.

Doctors first found AIDS in African countries in 1979. Since then they have found large numbers of people in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, Zaire, Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe who have the sickness or the germ.

There is a very important difference between the ways the AIDS germ spreads in the USA or Britain and in Africa. In the USA it has mainly been gay men who have had the germ. There are some women with the germ, but not so many. Scientists say that this is now changing, so that many more women are getting the AIDS germ.

In African countries, there are equal numbers of men and women who have the sickness and the germ.

This means that sex between men and women is the main way that the sickness spreads in Africa.

In South Africa, most of the people who have been reported to have AIDS sickness have been foreigners, or gay men. Most of them have also been classified “white”. But this does not mean that AIDS is a “whites only” disease in South Africa.

Many black people can have AIDS which is never discovered because health care for them is poor compared to that for white people, especially in the rural areas. Also, more black people are being discovered now with AIDS. It is very possible that AIDS in South Africa will spread mainly in the same way as in other African countries-through sex between men and women.

It is clear that we need to do all we can to stop AIDS from spreading. We can do this by educating ourselves and others about the ways that AIDS can be caught or passed on. So when you have finished reading this article, give it to a friend or family member to read. The more people who know about AIDS, the more chance we have of fighting this terrible sickness.

The democratic organisations are taking up campaigns to educate communities about AIDS. These organisations have agreed that these campaigns must be co-ordinated by the Progressive Primary Health Care Network (PPHCN) at a national level. Below are the addresses of PPHCN regional offices.

HEAD OFFICE Suite 204 Lancet Medical Centre 74 Lorne Street Durban 4001 TEL: (031) 309-3306

SOUTHERN TRANSVAAL P.O.Box 2346 Johannesburg 2000 TEL: (011) 23-5486

NORTH-EASTERN TRANSVAAL P.O.Box 5404 Pietersburg North 0750 TEL: (01621 ) 913171

EASTERN CAPE P.O.Box 14348 Sidwell 6061 TEL: (041) 43-2186

WESTERN CAPE P.O.Box 192 Gatesville 7764 TEL: (021 ) 696-8470

EASTERN CAPE/BORDER/TRANSKEI P.O.Box 14348 Port Elizabeth 6001 TEL: (041) 41-1618

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