Sowetan addresses concerning myth
Kim Johnson & Maxine Birch
2 October 2013
The Sowetan’s (20 September 2013) article ‘Grannies scramble for condoms’ takes the time to debunk a dangerous myth but disappoints when it comes to addressing another major red flag.
Last week an article in the Sowetan reported that ‘grannies’ have been using government condoms to soothe arthritis-related aches and pains.
According to the front-page piece the Soweto-based seniors rub the condoms on their joints, claiming that “the oil” or lubricant on government-issue condoms alleviates pain.
To the article’s credit it not only reported on and raised awareness around this bizarre behaviour but also engaged with it.
With the help of multiple expert sources the article ultimately established that there is no evidence that the lubricant addresses pain associated with arthritis.
Debunking myths and misconceptions is considered a crucial part of health reporting. By consulting expert sources the Sowetan tackled the topic thoroughly and delivered a balanced and nuanced report that provided readers with the correct information, enabling them to make informed decisions around their health.
However the article stopped short of addressing a major HIV-related red flag raised in a quote from one of the elderly women.
Despite one of the ‘grannies’ mentioning that she had never seen or used a condom before, the Sowetan didn’t seize this opportunity to raise the spectre of HIV risk among the elderly, especially as it applies to older women.
The woman’s complete ignorance regarding condoms, points to worrying gaps in HIV prevention, which betray a tendency to underestimate this group’s HIV risk.
HIV education and prevention campaigns are largely directed at groups considered most at risk. For example, according to statistics, women between the ages of 15 – 24 are most vulnerable to HIV. As a result there are countless programmes and initiatives that aim to address HIV among girls and young women.
On the other hand, older women or ‘grannies’ are often forgotten when it comes to HIV prevention because they are seen as past their prime and consequently desexualised.
Older women themselves are also less likely to test for HIV not only because they are rendered complacent by the absence of any HIV prevention messaging aimed at them but also because they are no longer of childbearing age. This means that unlike younger women who are often tested for HIV as part of antenatal care, older women rarely come across opportunities or offers to test for HIV.
It is commendable that the Sowetan didn’t merely stop at reporting on this situation but took the time to balance the grannies’ personal accounts with expert comment and in doing so provide readers with accurate and empowering information.
However the article could have gone further exposing and exploring the lack of HIV prevention among elderly women and the erroneous belief that this group is not at risk, or at negligible risk, of HIV.
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