Red Lace Race steps up fight against stigma for World AIDS Day 2019

Stigma surrounding HIV remains a ‘serious barrier’ to adherence to care and treatment, according to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). However the Khayelitsha community took steps to end stigma and support the 16 days of activism against violence against women and children this World AIDS Day by inviting Cape Town to participate in the Red Lace Race – a free, five km fun run  held on Saturday, the 30th November aimed at promoting healthy, positive living, no matter one’s HIV status.

The Red Lace Race (so named because every participant gets a pair of red shoe laces symbolising the AIDS awareness ribbon) has the slogan ‘Masibaleka sonke, masiphile sonke’ – ‘Let’s run together, let’s thrive together’ and is the result of a number of partnerships. Launched last year by non-profit organisation, TB HIV Care, and the Khayelitsha Running Club, the Red Lace Race this year sees the addition of the Khayelitsha Health Forum, the City of Cape Town, and Top Events to the organising committee, along with several other partners – the Government Communication and Information Systems, the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Africa, Epilepsy SA, Parliament, the Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities, and faith based-communities.

Ndibongo Mzanywa, of the Khayelitsha Health Forum, believes the event is important for Khayelitsha “This kind of event can change the style of World AIDS Day events. We are focusing on defeating stigma by making the event about a healthy lifestyle – socialising, networking and physical fitness, rather than just speeches. Anyone can improve their health, whatever their HIV status.”

At the end of October 2019, the HSRC released the full report from their ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey, 2017’ which measures several indicators of HIV-related stigma. According to this report, stigma has declined since 2002, but remains ‘a significant challenge’, especially since the HIV prevalence rate was 14% of the South African population and 26,4% of individuals between 25-49 years in 2017.

“Stigma leads to people not getting the help they need. People don’t test, or don’t start or continue treatment because they are concerned about what other people will say.” Says TB HIV Care Programme Executive, David Mametja.

“We need to remember that a supportive community is a healthier community. People who are supported by others and take their treatment consistently soon become virally suppressed, which means they can’t transmit HIV. All of us, churches, sports clubs, stokvels and schools need to get behind the idea that we should be supporting people to take good care of their health. That includes taking their chronic medication, whether it is high blood pressure pills or ARVs.”