“My domestic has Aids and I really don’t know what to do. She’s been with me for more than 20 years and has become part of the family, but what do I do now? Do I let her go? What if she infects my children?”
That is how one Durban North mother describes her first experience with someone with Aids. And, despite the advances in HIV treatment and education on the disease, the fear and stigma remains.
The truth is, you cannot get HIV by touching or hugging someone with the disease.
Caring for someone with HIV
Caregivers are at the forefront of patient care and understanding their needs can make all the difference in your approach with them.
Keeping the communication open and enquiring about their families can provide key insight into their own mental and physical state, which helps you especially as an employer.
For the caregiver, dealing with the stress of caring for someone with HIV can be overwhelming and talking about it also serves as a coping mechanism.
Encourage healthy eating
Even if you are not directly affected by HIV, it is important to provide as much information to someone affected by the virus – the patient, caregiver and loved ones. Talk to them about eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet which includes plenty of fluids and fibre, fruit and vegetables, lean meat, eggs, beans and nuts. If you are an employer providing grocery hampers to your helper at home, knowing if they are caring for someone with health issues like HIV, can help in your selection of hamper.
Choose whole grains such as brown rice and brown whole-wheat bread because they are packed with energy-giving vitamin B and fibre and avoid giving products with a high salt or sugar content as people with HIV/Aids have a greater risk of getting heart disease and too much sugar and salt can be harmful to the heart.
Food preparation for HIV patients
Hygiene is important when preparing food for someone with Aids, as their immune systems are particularly vulnerable to infection.
Take extra care when preparing food by keeping hands, cooking utensils, and food preparation surfaces clean. Wash fruit and vegetables well and cook vegetables, meat and poultry thoroughly.
Don’t give the person uncooked seafood, fish or raw eggs, as these can contain life-threatening bacteria and avoid cooking fatty, fried or spicy foods.
Aids can be passed on from one person to another in the following way:
* Having unprotected sex with an infected person
* Contact with infected blood
For these reasons, it is important to take special care when interacting with someone with HIV.
If you need to clean up their body fluids or blood, always use rubber or plastic gloves and dispose of the items carefully by placing in another bag before throwing away.
Frequent hand washing with soap and water and thorough washing of their linen and clothing in hot water is the key to prevent any accidental transmission.
Remember not to share personal items like tweezers or razors which could risk the contact with infected blood.
Tips for caregivers
Some simple tips to caregivers can often make a world of difference to the patient. These include:
* Exercise is crucial: Ever wondered why doctors insist on a patient being up and about even soon after an operation? That’s because keeping active provides healthy blood circulation, keeps infection at bay and prevents bed sores. Encourage Aids patients to walk around – even if it is just within their area.
* Massages: A gentle back massage can ease a lot of tension in any patient as it relaxes the muscles. It is also safe for those with Aids.
* Medication Check: Some patients, especially the frail, need help in managing their medication. It’s important to monitor their medication times, frequency and doctor’s appointments.
As a country still grappling with new HIV infections despite the massive reduction in Aids-related deaths, the new challenge remains on prevention of the virus which requires individual responsibility, a call repeated by Aids activist, Musa Njoko, one of the country’s first women to have disclosed her HIV status 22 years ago, in 1994.
“It’s our duty to look after ourselves as well as our loved ones. In the past 21 years, there is not one person who can claim to have been infected with HIV by me. I have made it my personal duty to ensure that in my family, my community, our country and worldwide, HIV stops with me.
“When I was involved in a car accident in 2003, even as I lay there with a lot of blood and broken glass around me I knew it was important to warn those who came to assist me that I have HIV. I advised them to use the plastics I had in my boot which are always in my car even to this day. We all need to be aware of our personal responsibility not just to ourselves but each other.”
Whether you are caring for someone with Aids or know someone who does, take care of your health. Stay informed and share the information with those around you – only then can we achieve our targets of zero new infections, in our lifetime!
* There can be no discrimination against anyone who has HIV and Aids.
* They have the right to medical treatment and care from our health and welfare services.
* Children with HIV are allowed to attend any school.
* No one can be fired from a job just because they are HIV positive
* No one can be forced to have an HIV test at work or before getting a job.
* Test results cannot be shown to anyone else without permission.
* Pregnant women with HIV have the right to make a choice about their pregnancy.
* If you have any questions about HIV/Aids you can phone the free, 24-hour Aids Helpline at 0800 012 322.