From early 1980s when HIV/AIDS was first reported, one of its most brittle and ravaging face has been stigma. Nearly 40 years later, societies are still afflicted by the same. The level of stigma might have reduced, but bad is bad; there can never be such a thing as half bad.
This is even more valid considering the disastrous impact it has had on efforts to fight and eliminate what is one of the most deadly diseases in human history.
HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV/AIDS. And although many people might downplay stigma or its impact, the burden is real. And destructive.
Fear of this happening can lead to people with HIV being nervous about telling others that they have HIV or avoiding contact with other people. They may end up suffering in silence instead of getting the help they need.
Stigma can also result in people with HIV believing the things that other people say about HIV. For example, in the mid-1980s to early 1990s, HIV, commonly known in eastern Africa then as ‘slim’ after doctors in Uganda first reported in 1982 cases of a strange virus that was causing infected persons to slim and waste away to death, was considered a death sentence of sorts.
As the truth about how the virus was spread was revealed, stigma quickly took on another face with people claiming that most people with HIV were immoral or irresponsible. But there is proof that HIV can be spread by other means such as blood transfusion, during accidents, childbirths, rape, among others.
AIDS does not kill. It’s the opportunistic diseases that do. Add stigma to these and you see why the attitude is very dangerous. From loss of income and livelihood, poor care in health sector and withdrawal, stigma drives many people living positively with HIV/AIDS into early death.
Just recently, the Ministry of Health launched fresh efforts to achieve zero discrimination of HIV-positive persons by 2020. But this struggle isn’t for health officials and community leaders alone; it starts with you and me.
Every single individual should wake up and understand that the world has accepted that HIV/AIDS is real, but no single person should accept stigma.