It was already past midnight, but I thought it was time for a SALT visit 30,000 feet above sea level on my way to Kolkata. The Indian guy next to me was an engineer working on ships around the world for 6 months/ year. The other 6 months he spends with his family in Kolkata. After some small talk about work and his fear of losing his job in the economic crisis, he asked about my work. His questions came up: ‘If there are 10 Indians and 1 has HIV, can you see the difference? Can you get it through oral sex? How many years can a person with HIV still live?
We had a good chat and after some reassuring answers, he started sharing about the lives of the boat crews that travel around the world. “Most of the big ports have beautiful sex workers. Especially Brazil, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. The Brazilian girls are amazing. It’s difficult to resist the lovely girls especially as you are with a group of men”. We had a good conversation about condoms and the reliability of them. I learned a lot about the lives of such men. I acknowledged the vulnerabilities that many of these men must go through.
I expressed to my Indian friend: “It must not be easy to be away from home 6 months/ year”. He started talking about his family and how proud he was about his children. After an hour of ‘SALT’, I explained him the self-assessment of AIDS Competence. “Perhaps boat crews can do their self-assessment, stimulated by the big shipping firms they work for?” He smiled and I saw him reflecting. Then we continued our airplane meals.
This experience reminded me of some of the vulnerabilities that long-haul truck drivers in GLIA expressed or even wealthy men that travel a lot for work. For me, the ‘MMM’, Mobile Men with Money are not any less vulnerable to HIV. This is not only my view. I was struck by the following video: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/hans_rosling_the_truth_about_hiv...
Hans Roling used UNAIDS data and presented it in a remarkably simple way. Besides other very interesting data, it shows how income is positively
related to HIV prevalence both on a macro-level as well as within one country like Tanzania (see 6min11). So I am wondering: Who is really at risk and who is striving to become AIDS Competent?
During my recent trip in India I have seen communities of Sex Workers and MSM (in Mysore) or Transgender communities (in Krishnagiri) that were certainly more AIDS Competent on most of the practices than the wealthy engineer sitting next to me or even than myself. I experienced a group that is certainly level five on ‘acknowledgement and recognition’. Every time, I am struck by how much I learn from these community groups. All it needs is a pinch of SALT.