The Dangers of HIV Stigma
HIV stigma is something we always hear about but if you’re still wondering what it really means, it’s when people have a negative set of ideas and beliefs about HIV and about you if you’re living with HIV. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is an infection that some people are judgmental about, mainly because they don’t know enough about it. Unfortunately, HIV stigma can actually hinder our fight against AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and our chances for an HIV-free generation because it keeps us from getting the testing and treatment we need. For example, if you're living with HIV, HIV stigma can prevent you from going to their nearest clinic to get anti-retroviral treatment because you might be afraid of being stigmatised and discriminated against.
Stigma prevents you from getting tested
HIV stigma makes it harder for people to know their HIV status. Because of the judgment people receive sometime from their communities when they are HIV positive, some people would rather not know what their status is, or travel to far away clinics to get tested. They would rather risk not knowing their status instead of face the possibility of stigma and the risk of others finding out.
Did you know that 79% of people don’t think they are at risk of getting HIV? This is mainly because of stigma and also thinking that ‘it won’t ever happen to me’. But everyone is at risk of contracting HIV due to having unprotected sex. Getting tested at your nearest clinic by a healthcare provider is important because by knowing your status, you have better control over your health and your life, as well as the wellbeing of your partner. You’re also able to protect your partner because you’re more likely to infect someone with HIV if you don’t know what your HIV status is.
Discovering that you’re HIV positive is certainly not the end of the world. You can live a long life with HIV if you're on antiretroviral treatment and taking care of yourself by eating healthily, exercising regularly and going to the clinic on a regular basis.
If you need more reasons as to why you need to get tested for HIV, read this: Why should I get tested for HIV?
It can prevent you from getting the antiretroviral treatment you need
Even people who are aware of their HIV positive status might not get the help they need because they fear judgment. For example, if you’re living with HIV but are aware of the stigma that exists around HIV, you might not want to go and get treatment from a healthcare practitioner. This could be out of fear that people will see you and know that you are there for treatment (or see you with the treatment). You might also not trust that the healthcare practitioner will keep your status confidential. HIV testing is meant to be completely anonymous Choma. It’s actually the healthcare practitioner’s job to make sure your results are confidential.
A lack of treatment puts anyone living with HIV at serious risk of getting very ill and the virus eventually progressing to AIDS, which is a life threatening condition. People don’t actually die of HIV Choma, they die of AIDS-related illness (such as TB and certain types of cancers). Without fear of stigma, people can get their treatment and take better care of themselves to ensure that they live a longer, healthier life while living with HIV.
Stigma makes you vulnerable to rejection and abuse
Because HIV is a misunderstood condition, people living with HIV are at risk of being rejected by their partners, families and friends. Some people still associate having HIV with being promiscuous (sleeping around) or with being cursed. But HIV is a condition that can infect and affect anyone Choma. It doesn’t matter what background you come from, how much money you have nor your gender nor race.
Anyone living with HIV deserves the same rights as anyone who is HIV negative. Being HIV positive doesn’t make you any less worthy than anyone else. When you think about HIV stigma, think about this quote Choma:
“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.” - Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS
Here are a few more articles to read to help break HIV stigma:
If you or a friend need advice or help, remember that you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657)
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