Wednesday, November 14, 2012

1 December 2012 - WORLD AIDS DAY


Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation

   12 Million South Africans have tested and know their HIV status!

By knowing your status you too can be a part of the solution and contribute towards GETTING TO ZERO…

Zero New HIV Infections
Zero Discrimination
Zero AIDS Related Deaths
Alan Brand 
Employee Wellness Consultant and Specialist Trainer
Mobile: +27 (82) 453-0560
Direct Line: +27 (11) 482-5605
Fax to mail: 086 245 6833

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Circle of Life - Lessons from: The Lion King

There is a particular scene in the Lion King movie where Rafiki, who is the wise
old monkey, finds Simba who has run away after being blamed for his father’s
death and is living with his new friends, Pumba and Timon. Simba turns to the
monkey and says:
Simba: Creepy little monkey. Will you stop following me? Who are you?
Rafiki: The question is; Whooo…are you?
Rafiki continues to try to persuade Simba that he must return to “Pride Rock”
and take his rightful place in the circle of life as the lion king. But Simba says:
Simba: I know what I have to do. But going back means I’ll have to face my past. I’ve been running from it for so long.
Simba and Lala
Rafiki whacks Simba on his head.
Simba: Oww! Jeez…what was that for? 
Rafiki: It doesn’t matter; it’s in the past 
Simba: (rubbing his head) Yeah, but it still hurts.
Rafiki: Oh yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it,
or learn from it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I recently received a heartfelt letter written by a member of an internet support network that I am the creator and administrator ( This letter has helped me to be more aware and open to the reality of bisexuality. It is due to his letter that I feel the need to raise awareness to the reality of the issues so many bisexual men and women face. With his permission I will be quoting from his letter throughout this article. The reality of an HIV+ diagnosis and the process and time it requires for any individual to come to terms with the shock of such a diagnosis, highlights the importance of having a support structure or the ability to find people that one can talk to as they can greatly assist the individual through this process.

The author of the anonymous letter writes: “The Positively Alive website and the group’s support/forum meetings proved to be invaluable in my journey. I found out about my status a little over a year ago and met you and the guys two weeks later. Those first days were unimaginable. For quite some time I was even suicidal; it is just so overwhelming, that feeling that I can't explain - None of us can, but we've all been there! Just knowing that you’re not alone makes it easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Interaction with other positive guys is essential. It's was the only thing that made the discovery of my HIV status manageable.”

The fact that many people do not disclose their HIV status to loved ones is directly linked to the reality that more often than not, such a disclosure would include the disclosure of ones sexuality. Consider the silence around HIV and how this is increased by the direct feelings of fear of rejection when a young man discovers he is HIV+ and doesn’t tell his parents, because telling them that he is HIV+ would mean disclosing that he is sexually active or a further example would be a husband that does not tell his wife because this will mean a potential disclose of infidelity. Not only does the HIV+ bisexual man have to consider all these real issues but he also finds himself with the added reality that an HIV+ disclosure might also mean revealing the secret of his sexual identity.

Anonymous letter continues: “I haven't come out publically, but I do know that a certain amount of relief comes with letting your loved ones know. I have only been able to tell one family member so far. The huge mental and emotional impact that HIV has on someone is most probably the greatest of all challenges. There are physical ailments which come along with it, most of which can easily be treated; I have learnt so much about my body over the past 12 months. A good diet and exercise is an everyday occurrence in my life. I'm in such a good space and although we know that it has the potential to be a big deal if left untreated when treatment is required, it really isn’t such a big deal at all! Believe me, I do get it, but there’s no point in beating myself up about it for the rest of my life. I need to enjoy life to live long and live strong. If I’m regretting it then I’m holding onto something that overshadows every moment of every day. We can’t allow ourselves to think like that. I know you're "there" and because of you so am I. I was privileged enough to stumble upon some footage of you. I attended the training that you offered, last year. Thank you for everything that you have done for so many of us.”

Men who have sex with men or (MSM)
I have deliberately not been using the term MSM because it is not the term that the author of the letter has selected to use when referring to his sexuality. The term MSM is used by medical experts, psychologists and others to highlight and identity the existence of men who have sex with men. The reality is that the general public does not use the terminology MSM (men who have sex with men). Surely it would be better to ask a person in which manner they prefer to identify themselves sexually? It is important however, that we acknowledge and recognise the existence of men who have sex with men (MSM) and the importance of incorporating their existence into our health and wellness initiatives. According to a research published in the Health4Men’s booklet “MSM IN YOUR POCKET, Sexual Healthcare for Men who have Sex with Men”, up to 50% of men who have sex with men (MSM) identify as heterosexual and have female sex partners. The booklet further describes MSM as follows: Male to male sex occurs throughout Africa, in all cultures, societies and geographical locations. Not all MSM identify as homosexual or gay. Many such men may be married, have children and have sex with women. Many have “masculine” gender identity and cannot be identified as being MSM by their dress, mannerisms or social roles. They may see themselves as heterosexual (or even as the author of the letter indicates as bisexual). The diversity of men included in the term MSM are men who are heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual and who can be either relatively masculine or effeminate in their dress and mannerisms.

Anonymous writes: “I'm not sure if you do know, but I am in actual fact bisexual. This is also something which I've had to accept of myself, there's a large amount of guys who are bisexual but can’t accept this of themselves – this applies mostly to “straight” guys, but also some “gay” guys (guys who are more accepted by the gay community than the straight community). I feel like I’m coming out of the closet all over again. To be attracted to both sexes is quite widely thought of as unusual / odd, etc. often even more so than coming out / labelling yourself as gay. I have had girlfriends in the past and now I have one again. Being with a woman again has raised more concerns in regards to what's safe and what's not with her. Guys and girls do obviously have quite different anatomies. I love every part of my female partners body as I have loved every part of past male partners bodies. Alas, there have been more guys than girls, but for some reason I keep “relapsing” (hahaha) back to women. My partner knows my status and my sexual orientation, she's negative and straight (but that’s beside the point). We've educated ourselves as to what's safe and what's not.”

As a gay man I am open about my homosexual identity and have disclosed my sexuality to my family, employers and friends and have been received with love and acceptance. It is very sad that we are not more tolerant and so many of us simply consider bisexual men to simply be a man that has not come to terms with his sexuality. The gay community has over many years fought hard to be accepted for who we are, bisexual and gay rights are protected by the constitution of South African. The South African constitution provides for freedom, tolerance and acceptance of our rights to live in a society free from discrimination based on sexual orientation, yet how intolerant we can be towards others if they are different to ourselves. If someone identifies as being bisexual we are quick to dismiss the idea and respond with intolerance and a total lack of acceptance and understanding. How often have we uttered the words “another gay man not able to accept that he is actually gay and is just in denial?” Bisexuality has as much right to exist and be recognised as my desire to be recognised as being gay, or whatever sexual orientation I might classify myself as. The letter has opened my eyes and I hope it too will help to open yours. I think we all can take the time to evaluate or responses, health services and employee wellness interventions by answering the following questions:
  • Is your programme tolerant of bisexual men/women or does it embrace and include messaging directed towards the needs of bisexuals?
  • Do your healthcare workers and practitioners, through ignorance and a lack of understanding, label bisexual men as being gay when they do not classify themselves in this way, hence causing them to feel excluded and misunderstood?
  • Do your wellness interventions, peer educator programme and EAP services provide a confidential and safe environment where bisexual men/women are accepted and understood? 
  • Do ignorance and a lack of understanding of those providing care and support services cause bisexual men/women to experience feelings of isolation and intolerance?
  • Do we make bisexual men/women feel incorporated and do we directly address them in communication strategies, awareness and information messaging, or are your HIV intervention and other health and wellness messages only directed towards heterosexuality and homosexuality people?
  • Have we made an effort to understand what the needs of bisexual men/women are?
  • Do we listen and are we educating ourselves so that we have a better understanding of the needs of the general and sexual health issues as well as the psychological needs of bisexual people?
  • Do we dictate our own values and principles on others, thereby contributing to their isolation and victimisation?
Consider the following - Discrimination is prejudice in action. Now with an open mind, read more from the anonymous letter below and I trust that if this honest and open hearted letter might help us all to become better loving and more tolerant human beings.

Anonymous writes: “My point is, although the site says it caters for all spectrums of men who have sex with men (MSM, the gay community seems opposed to this label. As a bisexual man I am also capable of falling in love and having meaningful relationships with both sexes. I’m sure that MSM should be viewed as a medical term only and that the emotional and spiritual aspects of us as gay / bi men should be left out of it. My perception is that everyone who attends the support group meetings is gay. Please correct me if I’m wrong? Bisexual guys are a bit different to gay guys... I’m the only bisexual guy I know who’s openly bisexual. Kind of like being the only gay in the village – LOL”

I have felt quite isolated at times, The Triangle Project has been absolutely amazing for me, and they have provided free counselling but also seem more geared toward the more mainstream (gay) positive guys.”

According to Health4Men statistically, it is likely that every service provider seeing more than 20 male clients per day has interacted with an MSM. It is often assumed that, unless male clients are openly gay, that they only have sex with women. MSM may be reluctant to volunteer their sexual history to a healthcare provider who is perceived to be judgemental, and may fear being embarrassed or ashamed in hostile communities where there is doubt about confidentiality at the healthcare facility. The following could be useful for healthcare providers when working with a male client:
  • Any male client could potentially be an MSM. Don’t assume that a male client only has sex with women.
  • A professional, non-judgemental attitude must be maintained.
  • Confidentiality must be discussed with clients, especially in a hostile community. The client’s sexual identity and related information may be omitted from the file.
  • Learn about the local MSM scene and associated terms and words. Peer educators and non governmental organisations are often helpful. Talk to your MSM client to learn more about their lives and lifestyles.
  • Be sensitive when interacting with male clients. Do not automatically use feminine pronouns such as “she” when referring to sexual partners.
  • Be sensitive with transgender clients, Transgender people experience a level of conflict with their birth sex (male or female), and may incorporate factors such as dress, roles or mannerisms usually associated with the other gender in their daily lives.
  • When dressed as a woman, a man may feel more comfortable being address as a female. If unsure, ask the client how they would prefer to be addressed.

MSM guidelines for healthcare providers can be obtained from the website or by contacting them on 021 421 6127.

Compiled by: Alan Brand
Positively Alive
For more on the Positively Alive support network for HIV+ Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or MSM visit

Monday, May 14, 2012


As I consider the focus on Men's Health in the month of June, I reflect on a special young man that has made a life changing impact on me. One might argue that this young boy could not be classified as a man by any standards, nor for that matter by the Oxford Dictionary however his age and frail being are hardly what defines him as a man. He was but a boy who died in his teens yet in all reality he was braver than many other who so glibly call themselves a man.

Nkosi Johnson life was short lived and I never had the privilege of standing in his presence, and yet he made an impression on me that few men have made. In a video clip made to promote a living positively publication, this brave young man relates how he was asked by a friend at school if he was sick and in total humility and with and unrivalled bravely, his sad little eyes looking straight into the camera he answers, "Yes I am sick". His friend then asks him, "What is wrong?" With his head held high he responds "I have HIV".

No matter how many times I have watched this video a tear always comes to my eye. Not a tear of sadness for a boy’s life so brief, I weep in sadness that I never had the privilege to kneel down and listen to what this brave soul could have taught me. I consider the many that are quick to call themselves men and yet have not had the courage to break the silence, or take responsibility for being infected with exactly the same illness this brave boy had. How many have died in denial to ashamed to admit the reality as Nkosi so bravely did?

What makes a man? Is it the ability to lie and deceive or does truth, honesty and humility make the man? Personally it is this young man that I wish to follow. As I started coming to terms with my own HIV status I made a decision to never deny that I am infected with HIV for if one so young could be brave enough to stand up at the International AIDS Conference and deliver the opening address at a time when the president of his country was in denial about the existence of HIV, then surely I too in his honour must follow his path and break the silence and speak the truth without shame, brave and yet so humble. Nkosi you gave me heart for you taught me to be courageous but with humility.

Last year I was fortunate to be in the presence of a wise man who addressed a classroom of newly trained HIV/AIDS Peer educators from the SAPS in Pretoria. Newly appointed as the head of corporate and employee wellness the general was addressing the candidates at the completion of a 4-day training programme, I had presented. He told a story of a man who wanted to leave a legacy behind before he died and was looking for some way of doing so that would stand the test of time.

He consulted an elder in his village who suggested he write his story in the sand on the beach. He proceeded to do so but no sooner had he started than the tide came in and washed away what he had written. He went back to the elder and told him what had happened and the wise elder told him of a huge oak tree that had stood for many years on the banks of a river on the outskirts of the village. Go and carve your story in the bark of the tree surely it will remain for all to read for eternity. The man did as told but half way through carving his legacy in the tree a team of workers arrived and told him they had come to chop down the tree to make way for a new bridge that was being built across the river.

Disheartened the man returned again to the elder and told him what had happened. Ah, said the elder, it would be wise to engrave your legacy in the rock face of the mountains over looking the village. At last the man thought this would stand the test of time and he would leave his legacy for all to admire throughout time.

He set about the laborious task spending years engraving his legacy in the rock face. Finally the task almost complete, he returned one last time to hammer the final few words into the rock face. But as he climbed the mountain he noticed that the weather had eroded the rock in so many places that his legacy was fading with time. Totally disheartened he went in search of the elder and found him on his death bed.

Sadly he told the old man what had happened and the elder said you have spent your years trying to leave a legacy in sand, wood and stone and yet nothing has remained and stood the test of time. What have you learnt? The man said he did not know! He begged the frail old man to share the secret. How do I leave a legacy that will stand the test of time? Before the elder could answer he passed away.

In sadness the man left and as he walked through the village the news of the elders passing was being related to the people in the village. The man heard people telling stories of the greatness of the elder, the kindness of his dreads, stories of his honesty and integrity and great wisdom. Suddenly the man understood. Write your legacy on the hearts of man and your legacy will stand the test of time.

As the general ended his story he told those he was addressing that they where wise just like the elder of the village. Making a difference in the lives of others would stand the test of time. The decision that they had made to set themselves apart, volunteering as HIV/AIDS peer educators would leave a legacy in the hearts of many.

As a person living with HIV I am often referred to as a sufferer, or a victim of AIDS. I have seen lesser words take away the power of greater men. What happened that gave me the strength and courage to never hear these words as a sword driven into me heart or soul but always as an opportunity to educate, and change the minds of those I come into contact with? I feel so small at times and wonder how I can possibly make a difference. It is at these times that I remember the boldness of a young man telling his friend that he has HIV. I hear his friend ask him, "Are you going to die?" And I hear Nkosi Johnson's sweet angelic voice answer. "Yes I have AIDS."

I am HIV positive and thanks to Nkosi Johnson's legacy I have become victorious as in his honour I embrace and take ownership for my status. Yes, I too will one day die more likely of an AIDS related illness but I have had the privilege and been given the opportunity to write my legacy in the hearts of many.

I challenge all men to stop the silence, denial and shame around HIV. As men we have the power to stop the spread of this virus but only if we take ownership and cast away the denial we can leave a new legacy, one that stand for HUMILITY, INTEGRITY and VICTORY.

By: Alan Brand
Positively Alive - Employee Consultant and Specialist HIV and Employee Wellness Training provider in support of HIV+ gay, bisexual and transgender (MSM) men in South Africa

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who can I blame for my HIV status – Dealing with unresolved anger?

“Feeling guilty is a learned response. You’ve been told to feel guilty about yourself for things you did before you could even do anything.”
– Neale Donald Walsch [1]

I have often been asked what my initial response was to being diagnosed with HIV. I have tried to reflect back and recall my emotional response on that afternoon in January 1997. All I can remember was having an overwhelming sense of numbness and a feeling of guilt and shame.  Who do I blame for this? All I could think at the time was what an idiot I was; did I really think this would not happen to me?

I guess it would be easy to accept that an HIV+ diagnosis would initially result in feelings of shock and disbelief.  When this initial emotion subsides one is left with a feeling of complete numbness. Especially back in 1997, for me at that time, I had nobody to fall back on, no institution or counsellor to talk to. I could not tell my loved ones as I was totally overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and shame.

The doctor had not even told me she was doing an HIV test when she took my blood for as part of a routine health check. Let’s do a full blood count she had said, not mentioning that she was including an HIV test. When I got the call to make an appointment to receive the result of the “full blood count” I had not given any thought to what the test would be for and hence bounced into the doctor’s rooms as cheerful as always. Without any counselling or warning she pronounced the verdict “your HIV results came back positive” she said, and then proceeded to hand me a slip of paper on which she had written the details of an HIV specialist whom she recommended I make an appointment with. And that was that, nothing more and nothing less. No counselling, information from the medical doctor I had come to trust and called my home doctor.

Many years have past since that day and now I find myself in the fortunate position of being able to provide counselling and support to newly diagnosed individuals. One of the biggest stumbling blocks that continues to limits or hinders the person from breaking through to acceptance and forgiveness is the issue of unresolved anger and a desire to seek out who to blame.

FORGIVE; you might say… what for? Why forgive the person that infected me! If I see him/her on the street I will …..! I can see the feeling of anger well up like a volcano about to erupt! One needs to embrace the reality that these feeling of anger, resentment and loss are all normal and they must be expressed. However, to remain in anger would be to deny oneself the freedom of forgiveness. It was only when I could honestly say that my HIV status was my fault, that I had loaded the pistol and pulled the trigger, that I was able to start a process of forgiveness.

By forgiving you do not condone the actions of others nor do you validate the right that the HI virus has to be in your body. Forgiveness is only fully achieved when one understands that to forgive in itself is a selfish act. I do not forgive the person who infected me for their sake, I do so to release myself and set myself free. I do not accept the virus and forgive it for entering my body, for I did not invite it in, I do so because through forgiveness I take back the power to control my future.

Forgiveness does nothing to the person that it is delivered towards, but it does bring about the miracle of healing in the heart of the forgiver.  So feel your anger and express your loss but do not tally there too long as the long you remain in the dark pit of anger, the longer you will sink into despair and the only person who will suffer will be you.

Rather be selfish and start the journey of forgiveness, forgive yourself, forgive the virus, forgive the person that infected you and on and on the path of forgiveness will lead you. Without forgiveness you are bound to the dark and unresolved feelings of anger and hatred that will consume you. Anger will do nothing but harm you.

“Forgiveness is the path to self-love, and self-love is the key to inner healing. We all make the wrong choices in life at times and we can go through the rest of our lives criticising ourselves for these choices. If we continue to blame ourselves we are bound to that mistake for the rest of our lives. Just as we had the choice then, we have the choice today to release ourselves from that bondage through forgiving ourselves. Forgiving yourself for contracting HIV, for example, or for having unprotected sex, will enable you to move forward, to face others and yourself, and to open the way to loving yourself.[2] 

Through forgiveness release the past and all past experiences.

Continue into the light with love.

Alan Brand
Employee Wellness Consultant
Positively Alive

Alan is also the site administrator of the support network for HIV+ gay, bisexual and transgender men (MSM) in South Africa -Positively Alive  for more details visit  

[1] From Conversations with God, Book 1 on feelings of guilt.
[2] Positively Alive, by Alan Brand, Published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd. 2005

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Positively Alive - Employee Wellness Consultant and Specialist HIV/AIDS Training Facilitator

AIDS, HIV, TB, absenteeism management, Peer educator, Counselling Skills, Champions of wellness and much much more,
Employee Wellness training provider and facilitator. 
Specialising in; HIV/AIDS Peer Educator/Wellness Champions Training Modules, HIV/AIDS Awareness Training Module and Managing Wellness in the Workplace – Policy and Law Training Modules.

Should you require on site employee wellness training, contact Alan Brand for a formal quotation or for further details regarding the courses provided, accreditation or much more.  Available to conduct training througout South Africa.

Employee Wellness Consultant and Specialist Trainer
Alan Brand
Mobile: +27 (82) 453-0560
Direct Line: +27 (11) 482-5605
Fax to mail: 086 245 6833