It is time to wear the red ribbon in our hearts


It was around 1993. The red ribbon is associated with immorality and carries with it phobia and stigma.

It is now 2015, and this red ribbon is a must-wear for everyone and their mother, because as we say in HIV-speak; we may not all be infected, but we are all affected.

World Aids Day (WAD) puts the red ribbon on every lapel in town. It was first commemorated on 1st December 1988, a year after I was infected with HIV.

I was still in denial. Still trying everything, and I mean everything, to flush this virus out of my system. If during this tortuous time someone told me there was a day set aside for AIDS, I would have told them to shove the day up you-know-where.

I therefore realise that as we commemorate WAD on Tuesday next week, there will be people who will have just tested HIV-positive. With their worlds turned topsy-turvy, the last thing they may want to hear is, “Hey, it’s WAD”.

I want them and their families to know that this day is not about magnifying their predicament. The red ribbon is not a sign to remind HIV-positive people of their fate, but it is worn to signify awareness and support for those who have the virus.


Cancer activists lament that the conversation about this disease is mostly done in October only, the world cancer month. Even HIV activists deal with this challenge, however, we found a way round this hurdle by having year-round awareness and sensitisation campaigns. People are beginning to get apathetic towards HIV though. I dread that it is becoming a footnote in our medical diaries.

World Aids Day and other dates seek to remind us that HIV is real and wreaking havoc, and that we should not sit back and relax. This day’s activities ought to go on throughout the year, albeit without the fanfare that characterises the big day. My prayer, always, is that this will not be a one-day event; but a conversation that will continue in our homes, offices and places of worship.

For me and my house, which I know cannot be said of many households, the HIV conversation is on repeat, 24/7. Whereas many families spend days, and even months, trying to find out how to break the ice and talk about HIV, I am fortunate because my cat has been out of the bag for 28 years now.

I have counselled families where, though everyone could see and touch the elephant in the room, no one had the audacity to talk about or tackle the tough subject. I have witnessed many HIV-positive people dying in conspiratorial silence, whereas talking could have been balm for a longer life.

This day is a time for families to talk about HIV without fear, blame or stigma. I have never seen an issue that has broken families, hearts, hopes and relationships more than HIV.

I know from painful experience that if families affected by HIV don’t put this subject on the table, whether the counsellor’s, pastor’s or living room, and talk like their life depends on it, then they are miserable.

As long as families are divided, or in worst case scenarios, completely torn apart by the HIV virus and its myriad consequent challenges, our work of mending broken hearts will only be half done.


There are two items I have worn all my life: my bald hairstyle and the red ribbon on my lapel. The hair style is because I am a sucker for keeping things simple, while the ribbon is my constant reminder that HIV is an issue that’s close to my heart.

To some, the red ribbon is a fashion statement, but to me, it is a mission statement personified.

One of the things I delight in, besides watching children infected and affected by HIV getting back their joy, is seeing families that were torn asunder by HIV getting healing and harmony.

I get it. Not everyone will be comfortable wearing a red ribbon, or, like I sometimes do, wearing a t-shirt with the bold inscription, “HIV-POSITIVE”. However, we can all find a place in our hearts to embrace this day and show understanding, care and love towards those infected and affected.