Although infection with HIV is serious, research shows that people infected with HIV/ AIDS are living longer and healthier lives today, thanks to new and more effective treatments.
Claire Gasamagera Tuyishime the chairperson of Kigali Hope Association is a typical example. She has lived longer with HIV guided by the motto of their association; ‘Towards an HIV Free Generation.’
Tuyishime was born with HIV in 1983. She has lived all her 26 years with a positive attitude. She has never despaired or thought of committing suicide, but instead she has helped thousands to protect themselves from contracting the pandemic.
“I was born with the virus, but discovered I was positive when I was nine. This is when I started using antiretroviral drugs,” she said.
Gasamagera never despaired; she went ahead and studied until she got a university degree at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).
What people find encouraging about Gasamagera is her role in the campaign against the spread of HIV within the society.
She however laments about the stigmatization of those infected and affected by the HIV/IDS in the society today.
This has created a desire to start up a clinic that will help Rwandan children born with HIV/AIDS.
“If I had money, I would put up a centre to exclusively provide treatment for children born with HIV/AIDS. My experience has taught me so well about the innocence with which these children are born and later on the suffering they endure. I understand how they feel,” she said.
Stigmatization not tackled
“If we are to succeed in reversing this epidemic, we must tackle the stigma and discrimination associated with it. Political leaders have to work hard to make our societies more open, caring, inclusive and non-judgmental,” said Bertie Ahern, a UK based HIV/AIDS specialist working in Rwanda.
While the treatment and care for HIV positive people in Rwanda continues to be accessible, there has been a growing acknowledgement that the stigma and discrimination experienced by HIV positive people needs to be challenged.
In his book R. B. Hays argues that the “disclosure of HIV infection can lead to important social support that can mitigate the negative effects of stress. However, disclosure can also result in rejection, discrimination and stigma, making the decision to disclose a dilemma for individuals infected with HIV.”
In other words, HIV positive people are living in some form of discrimination that is discreetly covered in families and societies.
“I was denied chance to go and do medicine in one of these European countries, just because I was HIV positive. This was so disheartening,” Gasamagera said.
She says she excelled but was not selected. Her HIV negative colleagues who got less grades were given a green light to go for studies abroad.
“That is how society treats us,” she says. “We are segregated and completely stigmatized.”
The society is acutely aware of the situation of those affected by HIV. However, the HIV stigma and the decision to disclose it is influenced by the fear of discrimination.
According to Dr, Robert Kimpe working with Partners In Health (PIH) at Kirehe hospital in Ngoma district, many individuals newly infected with HIV struggle with psychosocial issues.
“Poverty, stigma, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, and cultural beliefs have affected their quality of life, willingness to seek medical care, and motivation to adhere to therapy and are ultimately influencing health outcomes” Kimpe said.
In Rwanda, this goes on silently because stigmatisation is illegal. When it comes to punishing social stigmatization.
Edward Muhima, in charge of anti-HIV/AIDS campaign in Kayonza district said that in Rwanda, “there is need to combat stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV and AIDS.”
Through including a critical review as well as monitoring existing legislation, policies and practices with the objective of promoting the effective enjoyment of all human rights, Muhima says people living with the pandemic and members of affected communities will be helped.
Due to high levels of stigmatization, it is inconceivable for many Rwandans that people living positively with HIV can get married.
But UNAIDS provides valuable facts on how ARV therapy has hindered the development of AIDS in HIV positive people who enjoy living longer and healthier lifestyles.
There is no cure for the AIDS virus but its proven that its spread can be slowed down.
According to Dr. Claude Ndayishimiye, the Director of Rwamagana Hospital, ARV’s have played a major role in improving the health of those infected.
“ARV’s combat HIV by interfering with the reproduction process of the virus in the body, thus stopping the virus from damaging the immune system,” Ndayishimiye said.
However, he emphasises that the drugs cannot eliminate HIV from the body.
“Because of this, people living with HIV must continuously take their medication,” he advised.
Doctors and HIV/AIDS specialists agree that people living positively with HIV are at liberty to get married but must take their medication and strictly follow doctor’s advice.