Angela is a 43 year old HIV-positive widow with 3 kids and 1 grandchild. When she was diagnosed positive alongside her husband, they couldn’t believe their results. They also could not tell anyone of their status. Not family, not neighbors nor friends. They had their children tested and the youngest was positive.
Because she is positive, life is different and difficult for her. She cannot have a job to sustain her family. She also cannot share her problems with anybody. Why? Because she is HIV-positive.
Angela is on Antiretroviral medication(ARVs) which she is required to take twice a day, but it requires you to eat enough before take the meds. She can’t afford for all the time and if she doesn’t take her meds, she becomes weak and her CD4 count drops and other diseases start affecting her.
It does not end only with Angie, her kids are suffering too. They can’t play with other kids because their parents wouldn’t allow them saying, “He has HIV and would infect you”.
Her wish for the future is to see a STIGMA FREE ENVIRONMENT because the stigma kills as fast as the disease itself. Stigma has made her feel like she does not deserve to live with others in her own society.
But what causes all of this stigma?
- Bad portrayal of HIV patients
- Negative information about HIV/AIDS
- Negative display of information about HIV/AIDS
Many people lack information and proper education on the disease. This includes the general public as well as healthcare workers. This worsens stigma and discrimination. Inadequate information strongly leads to
discrimination and stigma.
The rate of discrimination is high probably due to earlier adverts based on HIV, as it was initially pictured as a
“death sentence” with the infected person having no chance of life. This publicity gave the public a wrong impression about the disease making people scared.
The bad display both on public and private media channels and other forms of health promotions and messages worsens the image of the patients and promotes stigma and discrimination.
So how does stigmatization affect the patient and treatment?
- Stigma drives HIV out of public sight
- It creates the desire for people not wanting to know their status, thus delaying testing and access to treatment.
- At an individual level, stigma undermines the patient’s identity and capacity to cope with the disease.
- Fear of discrimination limits the possibility of disclosure even to potential important source of support such as family and friends.
- Stigma impacts on behavior changes as it limits the possibility of using certain safer sexual practices. Behaviors such as wanting to use condoms could be seen as a marker of HIV, leading to rejection and stigma.
Now that we can’t ignore the problem of stigmatization, what can we do?
- Protection: protect the victims of stigma and discrimination by instituting anti-discrimination laws and challenging violence against victims.
- Empowerment; empower victims and the general public to understand the rights of HIV patients and to act on the violation of these rights.
- Education: to address fears relating to the disease and to change attitudes towards the disease and patients.
- Inclusion: key populations like the victimized and infected groups should be included in health care service design and implementation. Stigma and discrimination reduction be included as a goal in national strategies.