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Working for Change In Your Community

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HealthWiki > Where There Is No Dentist > Chapter 12: HIV and Care of the Teeth and Gums > Working for Change In Your Community

By teaching and talking about HIV, dental workers can play an important role in helping to stop the spread of the disease.

Treating people with HIV infection helps to prevent its spread.

You can help if you:

  • Learn as much as you can about HIV, how it is spread, and how to prevent it.
  • Share your knowledge about HIV with others in community meeting places — like schools, stores, religious meetings, restaurants and bars, and military bases.
  • Teach people how to practice safer sex to stop the spread of HIV. Safer sex is when no body fluids pass from one person to another during sex.
  • Educate people about the importance of using clean needles for injections. In hospitals and health centers, make sure your needles come out of a sealed, sterile packet. Set up needle exchange programs for IV drug users in your community.

Practice safer sex

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Safer sex means to:

  • have sex with only one partner who has sex only with you.
  • always use condoms during sex, and help women learn how to ask men to use them.
  • think of other ways to have pleasure, such as touching genitals with the hands, and rubbing or massaging different parts of the body.
  • not have sex with someone who shares drug injection needles.

If the whole community has good information about HIV and safer sex, men and women and their partners may feel more comfortable making changes in their sex lives to protect themselves. No one has become infected with HIV because he or she spoke openly and honestly about safer sex.

Although it can be difficult to speak openly about sex, to help prevent the spread of HIV it is necessary to talk about what is risky sex and what is safer sex.

How risky are different kinds of sex?

5 kinds of sex that are very risky, 2 that are somewhat risky, 3 that are less risky, and 2 that have no risk.
sex in the anus without a condom
sex in the vagina without a condom
sex with many people
sex when the vagina is dry
sex with someone who has had sex with many people
sex without ejaculation
(“pulling out”)
sex using a diaphragm
sex with only one person who
only has sex with you
oral sex
(mouth on penis or vagina)
sex using a condom
kissing or touching
mutual masturbation

Treat everyone with respect

All people have a right to be respected, including people who have HIV. Set an example in your community by supporting people with HIV, their partners, and their families. Some people think AIDS is a “disease of outsiders“ or of “bad” people. They think HIV does not affect “good” people like them. But HIV affects rich and poor people, men and women, people of all races and religions, health workers, and religious leaders.

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HIV is not a curse or a punishment.

Many people are afraid to take the HIV test or seek treatment because they think they will be treated badly. We must all take care not to let our fear of HIV and AIDS make us treat people unfairly. Anyone who is ill should be cared for with kindness and respect.

As a health and dental worker, you and other community and religious leaders can help people with HIV get health services, housing and jobs. You can help people treat each other with respect, and you can encourage people who have HIV to become involved in their treatment and in their community’s activities. Remember, you can help support the human rights of people living with HIV or someone who people think is living with HIV. Discriminating against them violates their human rights.

Set an example and share good information

The example you set and the information you share will help fight the fear people have of knowing, touching or living with someone who has HIV. Make sure people know that HIV is not spread by ordinary daily contact. HIV is not spread by hugging, touching, holding or shaking hands, by dancing, using the toilet after someone with HIV, or eating food prepared by a person with HIV. People can share dishes, towels, and bed sheets and not become infected with HIV. Also, it is not possible to get infected from someone’s tears, sneeze or spit, or from a mosquito bite.

Other viruses such as measles or chicken pox are spread easily through the air. But HIV spreads only if certain body fluids of a person with HIV get inside another person.

As a health worker, you can help people make decisions based on good information and not fear. A good way to begin is to plan a meeting to discuss HIV with other health workers in your area or region and with someone from a regional HIV organization. He or she can help health workers learn about HIV so they will be able to provide accurate, consistent information to the people in their communities. They can also learn about the best ways to treat the infections that people with HIV often get.

a health worker speaking.
A person with HIV can get sick very easily with many common health problems such as pain, cough, skin rashes, fever and diarrhea. For information about these problems, see Helping Children Live with HIV, Where There Is No Doctor, or another general medical book.

Follow your own advice

As a dental worker and health leader, you can have a great impact on your community’s health and well-being if you set a good example. It is not enough just to give health education talks and tell people how to behave. As you talk to people about the importance of practicing safer sex, you must remember to also practice safer sex with your own sexual partner. A dental worker who does not practice safer sex can become infected with HIV and pass the virus to others.

Here is an example of what can happen to dental workers if they do not follow their own advice:

Two years ago, in one region of a country, there were 15 health centers that provided dental services. Today, 5 of the centers can no longer provide these services because their dental workers — all men — have died from AIDS. Also, 2 of the 15 students in a recent dental training course — a man and a woman — have HIV. No one knows exactly how each one got infected with HIV, but most people believe it was because they were not careful with their sexual partners. The dental workers and students gave many health education talks to tell people how to behave, but people in the community could see that they did not follow the advice themselves.
a woman with a swollen face sitting outside a clinic that is closed.

Think of yourself as a teacher

As a dental worker, you will be able to improve the health of the people in your community and help prevent the spread of HIV if you think of yourself as a teacher. The knowledge you share can have a more lasting impact on the health and well-being of a community than your skills as a dental worker. By making connections with people and organizations working on different aspects of HIV, you will learn new information that can help you and your community. Contact local, regional, and national groups who work on HIV education and prevention, on providing service for people with HIV, and on expanding access to ARVs and other medicines.

a group of people sitting together and talking.
Help people with the resources you have, and think about where you might find more resources to help meet people's needs.

If all health workers can give the same correct, up-to-date information, it will help prevent the fear caused by wrong ideas about AIDS. If their neighbors are not afraid of them, people with HIV — as well as those who care for them — can become more accepted in the community. Then they can help others understand every person’s real risk of getting HIV. So learn as much as you can about HIV and share the information with everyone.

Remember to:

  • Give advice to the people you treat, especially those most at risk for getting infected, such as young people, migrants and refugees, sex workers, drug users who share needles, and anyone having sex with more than one faithful partner.
  • Fight for improvements in the social and legal services available for people with HIV. Remember, the fight is against the conditions that lead to the spread of HIV, and not against people who have HIV.
a woman speaking.
Fight to end discrimination against those infected with HIV. Discrimination is an obstacle to care. It may stop people from coming for treatment and it may stop people from learning how to prevent the spread of infection.

This page was updated:30 Aug 2018