Stigma, the silent killer

THE last ten years have seen a voluminous increase in literary works in the East African region previously described as a ‘literary desert’ addressing the challenge that the HIV/Aids pandemic poses to humankind.Major themes explored in these works include Stigma meted out on people who have contracted HIV/Aids.

THE last ten years have seen a voluminous increase in literary works in the East African region previously described as a ‘literary desert’ addressing the challenge that the HIV/Aids pandemic poses to humankind.

Major themes explored in these works include Stigma meted out on people who have contracted HIV/Aids.

In Mysterious Killer (2001) by Joseph Situma and The House of Doom (2004) by Wahome Mutahi, the contraction of HIV/AIDS spells doom for the victim.

In The Mysterious Killer, Rachael is denied a job at Wayneberg Associates while Mbela in The House of Doom is relieved of his duties at the Chronicle newspaper where he worked as a journalist.

Other writers like Professor Francis Imbuga have taken a different direction by crafting a life affirming narrative in his novel The Miracle of Remera; a simple, loaded story of the ravages of HIV/Aids particularly in Africa, where it has struck both rural and urban areas with the same vengeance.

In Miracle of Remera, Imbuga resists the mythic power of the temporal representation of AIDS, often by emphasising the possibilities available in the present time or by envisioning alternative features to the mortal end imposed by medical diagnosis.

 Imbuga resists the temptation of making death as a result of HIV/AIDS a frightening and mysterious occurrence. He implores people not to just accept death from HIV/AIDS but should be challenged by it.

This paper in its Tuesday 18 issue reported that ‘stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV/Aids (PLWAs), mainly among the youth, remains a stumbling block in the fight against the scourge’.

This comes after a new survey carried out countrywide, indicates that 60 percent of respondents were being stigmatised because of their sero-status.

By far the most dreaded sexually transmitted disease, the number of infections of HIV/AIDS has been falling slowly but surely. In Rwanda, a lot has been done to tackle the pandemic.

The prevalence rate is now about 3 percent, those infected have access to anti-retrovirals to live longer, and great effort has been put in reducing Mother to child transmission of HIV among the HIV infected pregnant women.

But if the survey results are to go by, technocrats at the National Aids Control Commission have reason to burn the midnight candle.

The Rwandan society is culturally secretive the reason why despite the success attained in reducing the HIV prevalence, stigma still lingers on. 

In Uganda, early success in stemming the pandemic and the stigma that comes with it is largely attributed to acts of courage by public figures who openly spoke out about their HIV/status.

No one championed the fight against stigma more than the musician Philly Bogoley Lutaya (RIP). After realising that he was HIV-Positive, he went public about his status.

Through his music, he demonstrated the danger that HIV posed. He preached against stigma especially in his popular hit ‘Alone and Frightened’ in a line he says ‘today it’s me, tomorrow it’s someone else’.

Other high profile individuals like Rev Canon Gideon Byamugisha who in 1992 became the first religious leader in Africa to publicly announce that he was HIV positive inspired many to come out and speak about HIV and its consequences.

Theatre played a key role in changing peoples’ attitudes and in changing the apocalyptic narrative of HIV/Aids to great effect.

The social interpretation of HIV/Aids which is the main cause of stigma meted out on people living with Aids. A robust sensitisation campaign through radio, theatre and other arts needs to be instituted.

People should be encouraged to speak out about their condition. It is only by doing so that we will change the apocalyptic narrative that seeks to portray an AIDS diagnosis or even an HIV+ test result as a death sentence.

By so doing, we will do away with the stigma that has condemned PLWA’s to early deaths despite advancement in medical science that has made it possible for victims to live full productive lives.

burkepal@gmail.com

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