Whenever AIDS has won, stigma, shame, distrust, discrimination and apathy was on its side. Every time AIDS has been defeated, it has been because of trust, openness, dialogue between individuals and communities, family support, human solidarity and the human perseverance to find new paths and solutions.
The epidemic of fear, stigmatisation and discrimination has undermined the ability of individuals, families and societies to protect themselves and provide support and reassurance to those affected. This hinders, in no small way, efforts at stemming the epidemic. It complicates decisions about testing, disclosure of status and ability to negotiate prevention behaviours, including use of family planning services.
There are different types of stigmas in this scenario to consider. The most important is self-stigma or fear of negative community reaction, which can hinder efforts to address the HIV epidemic by continuing the wall of silence and shame surrounding it. Negative self-judgement resulting in shame, worthlessness and blame represents an important but neglected aspect of living with HIV.
Self-stigma affects a person’s ability to live positively, limits meaningful self-agency, quality of life, adherence to treatment and access to health services. Self-stigma, or internalised stigma, has an equally damaging effect on the mental wellbeing of people living with HIV or from key affected populations. This fear of discrimination breaks down confidence to seek help and medical care.
Another stigma that affects HIV positive persons is government stigma. A country’s discriminatory laws, rules and policies regarding HIV can alienate and exclude people living with it, reinforcing the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. As of now, 17 countries deport individuals once their HIV positive status is discovered, five have a complete ban on entry of people living with HIV and four require a person to prove they are HIV negative before being granted entry.
Deportation of people living with HIV has potentially life-threatening consequences if they have been taking HIV treatment and are deported to a country that has limited treatment provision. Alternatively, people living with HIV may face deportation to a country where they would be subject to even further discrimination that could contravene international human rights law.
Among all, the worst one is employment stigma. In the workplace, people living with HIV may suffer stigma from their colleagues and employers, such as social isolation and ridicule or experience discriminatory practices such as termination or refusal of employment.
Evidence from the People Living with HIV Stigma Index suggests that in many countries, HIV related stigma and discrimination are as frequently or more frequently a cause of unemployment or denial of work opportunity as ill-health. Roughly one in eight people living with HIV are denied health services because of stigma and discrimination.
Myths and misinformation increase the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS.
After reading this, I’m sure you will find out how much stigma affects the life of an HIV positive person like me. We hardly get any support. Don’t you think it’s the duty and responsibility of society and our government to work to reduce this stigma, its consequences and help POZ (HIV positive) people?
Adopting a human rights approach to HIV and AIDS is in the best interests of public health and is key to eradicating stigma and discrimination. Always remember HIV is just a virus, it doesn’t kill you, but this stigma might.