Thursday, June 19, 2008

The language of HIV-AIDS

Thanks Ellie for sending this (from IRIN):

HIV has hit our lives, our families, our economies; it also shapes the way we talk. IRIN/PlusNews looks at how the virus and its impact translates into everyday speech from the streets of Lagos to the townships of Johannesburg, and finds that despite the billions of dollars spent on positive communication strategies, the word on the street remains decidedly negative.

In Zimbabwe's Shona language, spoken by about 80 percent of the population, slang is called chibhende. According to Dr Robert Muponde, a senior lecturer in English studies at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, the expression speaks volumes about how HIV is understood and accommodated.

"Chibhende means speaking obliquely of something, in order not to blow its cover, or in order to speak about it more comfortably," he told IRIN/PlusNews.

In Zimbabwe, HIV is often spoken about as a thief (matsotsi). If you are HIV-positive, people might say you've been mugged, or Akarohwa nematsotsi in Shona, Muponde said. The phrase gives an idea of how the virus is perceived - as a sneak attack - but it also creates a space for discussion that otherwise might not exist.

"Sex is difficult to handle in a shy language like Shona," Muponde said. "Slang gives the unspeakable street value by making it look accessible and banal."

Felicity Horne, who studies AIDS and language at the University of South Africa, agreed, saying that while many communities struggled to break the silence about HIV and AIDS formally, informal or slang terms for the epidemic were proliferating and were beginning to construct a response to the pandemic.

"Language can neither be separated from our thoughts and feelings, nor from the social context in which it is used," she said. "Words and images create different conceptual realities of the phenomenon."

Organisations like SafAIDS, a southern African HIV/AIDS information dissemination service based in Zimbabwe, argue that the slang used to describe the virus - which is almost uniformly negative - reinforces the stigma and fatalism that has proved so difficult to erase over the past 25 years of advocacy.

IRIN/PlusNews has compiled a short list of the ways people refer to HIV/AIDS on the continent.

Angola (Portuguese)

Pisar pisar na min - contracting HIV is like having "stepped on a landmine"

Bichinho - "Little bug" (the virus)

Kenya (Kikuyu, spoken mainly in central Kenya)

kagunyo - "The worm" (euphemism for HIV)

Nigeria (Hausa, spoken mainly in the north)

Kabari Salama aalaiku - literally translates as "Excuse me, grave" (reference to AIDS)

Tewo Zamani - translates as the "sickness of this generation" (another reference to AIDS)

Nigeria (Igbo, spoken mainly in the east)

Ato nai ise - "five and three" (5 + 3 = 8, and "eight" sounds like "AIDS")

Oria Obiri na aja ocha - "sickness that ends in death" (euphemism for AIDS)

Nigeria (Yoruba, spoken mainly in the west)

Eedi - "Curse"

Arun ti ogbogun - "Sickness without cure"

Nigeria (Pidgin, the unofficial lingua franca)

He don carry - "He carries the virus"

Nigeria (English)

HIV - He Intends Victory (acronym of HIV and a phrase popular among born-again Christians)

South Africa (IsiXhosa and IsiZulu)

Udlala ilotto - "playing the lotto" /ubambe ilotto - "won the lotto" (said of someone suspected of being HIV positive; Lotto is the national lottery)

Unyathele icable - contracting HIV is like "stepping on a live wire"

South Africa (English)

House in Vereeniging - (acronym of HIV; "bought a house in Vereeniging", a town about 50km south of Johannesburg, refers to someone suspected of being HIV positive)

Driving a "Z3"/ "having three kids"/ the "three letters" - all refer to the three letters in the HIV acronym

Tracker - if you are suspected of being HIV positive people say God is tracking you, like the popular southern African service that tracks and recovers stolen vehicles

Tanzania (KiSwahili)

amesimamia msumari - "Standing on a nail"; euphemism for being skinny, or being small enough to fit on a nail's head, referring to AIDS-related weight loss

kukanyaga miwaya - contracting HIV is like "stepping on a live wire"

mdudu - "monsters" (refers to being HIV-positive)

Uganda (English)

Slim - euphemism for HIV/AIDS as a result of the associated weight loss; less popular since the advent of ARVs

Uganda (Kirundi, spoken mainly in the west)

"Ibikooko" - "monsters" (refers to being HIV-positive)

Uganda (Luganda, spoken mainly in the central region)

"okugwa mubatemu" - you have been waylaid by thugs (contracted HIV)

Zambia (Nyanja, spoken mainly in the east and in the capital, Lusaka)

Kanayaka - "It has lit up" (refers to a positive reaction from an HIV test)

Ka-onde-onde - "thing that makes you thinner and thinner" (HIV)

Zambia (Bemba, spoken mainly in the north and Lusaka)

Bamalwele ya akashishi - "those that suffer from the germ" (HIV-positive people)

Kaleza - "razor blade" (Refers to a person being thin as a result of AIDS-related weight loss)

Zimbabwe (Shona)

Ari pachirongwa - "He/she is on a (treatment) programme"

Akarohwa nematsoti - "He/she has been beaten by thieves"

Mukondas - abbreviation of "mukondombera" (epidemic)

Ari kumwa mangai - "He/she is drinking mangai" (mangai is boiled corn seedlings, which represent antiretroviral (ARV) drugs)

Akabatwa - "He/she was caught" (received a positive diagnosis)

Zvirwere zvemazuvano - "The current diseases" (the HIV epidemic)

Akatsika banana - "He/she has stepped on a banana and slipped" (someone who has tested positive and therefore will "fall" or die as a result)

Shuramatongo - "A bad omen for relatives"

Zimbabwe (English)

Red card - like a football player being sent off, life is over

Go slow - Taken to mean that he/she is now progressing slowly towards death

TB2 - Refers to high rates of HIV and TB co-infection (used to denote AIDS)

RVR - Slang for ARVs, adapted from Mitsubishi's RVR sports utility vehicle

John the Baptist - When someone has TB, he/she is said to have been baptised by "John the Baptist", who has come to announce the coming of HIV.

FTT - "Failure to thrive" (adapted from the medical phrase, now used to describe HIV-positive children)

Boarding pass - Implies that HIV is a boarding pass to death

Departure lounge - an HIV-infected person is in the departure lounge awaiting death


Anengiyefa 1:29 am  

It is unfortunate that in Africa, people still believe that when a person is infected with HIV, this inevitably means that his/her death is imminent. In the developed world, the prognosis for most HIV infected people is a normal, full, long, relatively healthy life, and people infected with HIV die mostly of causes quite unrelated to their HIV infection. With today's technology, HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence that it once was.

This is something that our governments need to wake up to. There is a need to intensfy efforts to provide antiretroviral drugs (ARV's) to those HIV infected people who need them, and as soon as the drugs are needed. The key to succeeding in prolonging lives, is ensuring that a constant supply of the drugs is maintained, so that resitance to the drugs by the virus is kept in abeyance. And even when resistance to first-line drugs does occur, to ensure that second-line medication is readily available. It is about getting priorities in the right order, and investing resources in areas where massive investment is required.

It is true that many of the newer generation drugs are very expensive, and are usually protected by patent, so that cheaper generic versions of the drugs cannot be produced for use in the world's poorer countries, where unfortunately, the need for these drugs is greatest. This is where I would like to see our governents acting together to put pressure on the governments of Europe and America, by whatever means available to them. Brazil has already successfully done this, and is now able to manufacture Atazanavir, a relatively new and very effective protease inhibitor (second-line treatment) for its own population, even though this drug is still supposedly proected by patent.

Of course, there continues to be the need for prevention strategies to be designed, and to get the message accross to people that nobody is immune to the virus. But for any prevention programme to stand a decent chance of success, groups of people who are especially vulnerable must be specifically targeted. We cannot afford to allow our religious or moral sensibilities keep us from recognising the importance of including commercial sex workers, and men who have sex with men (MSM's), in our fight against this scourge.

nneoma 4:04 am  

interesting post....I have also heard of "eggs" being used my my maternal community because it sounds like AIDS. I always assumed that these euphemisms for AIDS served to lessen the stigma. But then again, it is difficult to paint all African euphemisms for AIDS with one broad stroke. In one context it may serve to increase stigma (maybe such as red card) or lessen, (such as "ato na ise")....just a thought.

pyoo wata
the nollywood critique

Sandrine 2:20 pm  

Hi Jeremy,

What is positive communication?In my opinion, billions should be spent in education and prevention.Does positive communications means educating people so they understand how the disease is transmitted,protect themselves and stop shunning the ones affected?OK then.
But if positive communication means giving HIV/AIDS another name,what would people call a disease that kills,make people destitute and suffer terribly, lose their dignity and makes millions of orphans?


Anonymous,  3:38 pm  

For the Yoruba part of your post, you missed one that used to be common in the past as far as I know, Iranlowo - literally meaning "aid" as in assist

Florence 4:08 pm  

Just checking out your blog for the first time, interesting read I must say. I love your translations on HIV/AIDS particularly the one in Luganda (Uganda), well thats ffor obvious reasons...Keep up the good work

Florence Kayemba-Ibokabasi

Anonymous,  4:21 pm  

I notice no one responded to this or did you not have a chance yet to post responses?
Do you think we are still have lethargic feelings when it comes to this subject?
Anyways, interesting article, different languages, same meaning, hopefully, same attitude when it comes to fighting it.

Sandrine 7:49 pm  

@ Anengiyefa,
I agree with you that money should be spent on treatment.It is true that people can live with HIV.But I think the fact that some people in Africa believe that a person who is infected will probably die is realistic in some places because it might be unlikely that they get access to the treatments.Also I agree with you that the message should be clear that nobody is immune to the virus.Another thing I believe is that condoms should be promoted, not just abstinence which is usually what the Church condones.

anonymaus,  12:09 pm  

Anengiyefa, full marks, for being:
- informative
- inclusive
- pratical
- knowledgeable
- non-judgemental.

Sandrine, good points.

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