Since December 1, 1988, the World Health Organization has committed that day to raising awareness for the spread of HIV infection, whilst allotting a time to grieve the lives lost it. It has been estimated that HIV has claimed more than 35 million lives so far, and in 2016 alone, 1 million people died from HIV-related causes globally despite the fantastic prevention and management resources that exist – albeit largely to only the world’s most affluent – to curb the spread and lethality of this disease.

 

Today, the African continent is the most affected by HIV/AIDs, with 25.6 million people living with HIV in 2016.  Africa also accounts for almost two-thirds of the global total of new HIV infections. The nightmare continues in a disproportionate manner: some countries on the continent are recording success in halving the numbers of infected people and new cases of HIV/AIDS,whilst others are still battling with the stigmatization that holds people back from getting tested for the disease and knowing their status.

Some years back, being diagnosed as HIV-positive was like being given a death sentence. While some people made peace with their diagnosis with counselling, otherssaw it as the end of life, whereby suicidal feelings crept in.  But times have changed, and the advancement in researches and antiretroviral drugs now gives hope to people affected and living with HIV.

However, traditional African society places great pressure on families and individuals to maintain good social standings, which makes it difficult for people who live with HIV/AIDs to access testing and management services, not to mention navigate the social minefield of being the “black sheep” that soiled the family name through disclosure of anHIV-positive status.

Stigma is one of the leading factors that hold people back from getting tested, and when people do not get tested, the disease is transmitted like wildfire – especially amongst men, given that societal norms encourage them to have more than one sexual partner, and African men are oftentimes cavalier about unprotected sexual intercourse.

In countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, people who tend not to disclose their HIV status to their employerfor fear of being isolated orlosing their Job. Even in some cases where isolation is less common, there sometimes exists a limited type of interaction by well-meaning colleagues who, rather than treat the HIV-positive person no differently, instead gives them “safe space” to operate.  This, in turn, contributes to a feeling of “being different”, and this in turn can cause psychological harm for people living with HIV/AIDS.

In Nigeria, the 2014 HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people based on their HIV status. This act also prohibits any employer, individual or organization from requiring a person to take an HIV test as a precondition for employment or access to services. The following year, an additional bill was signed into law which protects the rights and dignity of people living with HIV.

However, according to a press statement by Partners to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV Response (PITCH-Nigeria), government health agencies at all levels are not doing enough to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. They believe that the National and States Agencies for the Control of AIDS (NACA and SACAs) are also not fully committed to the implementation of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act of 2014.

Olorunisola Abe, a female activist, has stated that there is need for more orientation and sensitization to be done. Despite the increasing awareness being carried out by various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), many still relate HIV to prostitution or moral failings, and isolate those living with the condition out of ignorance.  In Nigeria, a trader known to be living with HIV might even risk poverty because people, mistakenly fearing transmission through goods, might not even buy supplies from them.

Preventing and fighting stigma about HIV/AIDS should be a collective effort of everyone in society. Whilst the NGOs, civil society organizations, and Faith Based Organizations are doing great work around awareness and orientation, the bulk of the work must lie with governments across Africato implement and put to work the principles outlined in the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act.

 

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