Towards reducing stigma Living with AIDS # 426

Towards reducing stigma  Living with AIDS # 426

As the Health Department and the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) prepare to test 15 million South Africans for HIV in a year-long campaign starting next week, citizens are being urged to heed the call to know their status.

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‘€œWe’€™ve asked for leadership in this epidemic. We yearned for leadership in this epidemic. We yearned for good sound policies. We now have them. The rest depends on us. We’€™re all going to be tested. We’€™re going to ask our brothers and sisters and our family and our loved ones and our friends to be tested because testing is knowledge, testing is power, testing is strength’€, Constitutional Court judge, Edwin Cameron recently told delegates of the AIDS Consortium’€™s gala dinner, recently.

‘€œIt’€™s a great gift to be supported with growing political will, which is something that all of us AIDS activists have worked our lifetimes towards’€, added Denise Hunt, Executive Director of the AIDS Consortium.

Looking forward to the national Health Department and the South African National AIDS Council’€™s (SANAC’€™s) HIV Counselling and Testing campaign starting next week, Hunt said:  

‘€œWe trust that testing, once it becomes normalized – and various other initiatives, of course, as well – will eventually succeed in helping us to break down stigma. As long as we continue to hear or, in fact, to voice expressions of condemnation or blame or judgment we continue to be estranged from the spirit of our Constitution.

In addition to that we have a spirit of ubuntu in our country, and yet we continue to be complicit in unnecessary and needless deaths, and often times, the reasons for those deaths are rooted in stigma. We’€™ve seen so many sad and pointless deaths and some of them AIDS activists ourselves, which speaks, of course, to the issue of internal stigma. Whilst complex, the decision to reject an HIV test or the decision to reject treatment, despite evidence of wide-scale success is largely attributed to internal stigma’€,

Judge Cameron shared Hunt’€™s view that increased HIV testing will help reduce stigma, saying that the new HIV Counselling and Testing campaign will introduce an era where every one need not be afraid to take an HIV test.

‘€œUntil now we’€™ve been scared to tell people’€¦ If we had a friend who had a lump in her breast, we would say to her: ‘€œLet’€™s go to the doctor tomorrow. You’€™re going to have a mammogram, let’€™s check on that lump’€, but when we have had neighbours and friends and colleagues who we thought have had HIV, we haven’€™t gone to them and said, ‘€œcome, let’€™s go and be tested’€. All of that is changing today because we’€™re going to start a national testing campaign which is going to go far beyond the results of each person who is tested. It is going to go in to the mind of everyone in this country who feels the burden of stigma’€, Cameron said.                    

AIDS-related stigma is still rife in South Africa, causing many people to suffer in silence.

‘€œMany people living with HIV and AIDS live in poverty and are prevented from enjoying equal rights due to various forms of discrimination and stigmatization such as workplace policies that unfairly discriminate against people living with HIV/AIDS, medical aid schemes that deny effective treatment and care to people living with HIV and AIDS, insurance companies that refuse to offer life insurance policies to people living with HIV/AIDS and communities who stigmatise and isolate people living with HIV/AIDS’€, said Andries Nel, Deputy Minister of Justice.

But that need not be the case. If discriminated against, people living with HIV and AIDS can seek redress through the Equality Act and other instruments of the law.

‘€œWe’€™re actually calling our communities to a space of acceptance and healing and action. The intent there is to relegate HIV to its place of being a chronic, but manageable condition’€, said Denise Hunt, Executive Director of the AIDS Consortium.