Since HIV treaded all corners of the world, it has globally massacred 39 million people and infected 78 million to date.
And although the world has taken great strides in provision of ARV treatment, PMTCT programs and help from world programs in UNICEF, to local programs in countries in Africa, we still remain the most affected region with 24.7 million people living with HIV (2013) which accounts for 70% of the worlds global total view of HIV infections, according to The World Health Organisation.
One of the main factors of the spread still occurring is the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS infection. Many of the awareness programs are to blame, calling AIDS a monster or beast – utilizing words such as ‘combat the virus’ and ‘at war with AIDS’. The tones used in these campaigns inherently spread to those who are with the virus, making them feel attacked.
Apart from the programs, communities still deal with stigmatization – as HIV/AIDS infection is more linked with promiscuity, as sex is the most common form of infection. According to IRIN News, in Swaziland, stigma has been a barrier to encourage testing and receiving treatment. A survey conducted by Swaziland Network for People living with HIV/AIDS (SWANEPHA )this year proved that close to 45% of the population who were aware of their positive status refused to go to clinics to receive ARV’s due to fear of being identified of having the virus.
In community level, SWANEPHA noticed that 11% of HIV infected people aren’t supported by their family, usually being excluded while an additional 9% aren’t allowed to attend family social events. Cynthia Ngomezulu, a store clerk in Manzini, knows the exclusion all too well.
“I told my family I was HIV-positive because I wanted their support. My parents are dead but one sister and her husband offered support. But I was told by an aunt that I must not dare attend the funeral of her husband, who was one of my uncles, because it is taboo for a dying person to go to a funeral. I was very upset and I insisted that I am not dying. She shouted at me that she wished I were dead because I brought AIDS to the family,” she told the news publication.
However, the story is Swaziland resonates with the rest of Africa. We not only do not want to be known of our status to the public but on a personal level, we are afraid of getting tested. It’s not only due to stigma, but because of the dramatic lifestyle change it creates. Fear is garnered mainly by this, but we need to force ourselves to face our realities, we must be responsible over our own lives and the lives of those around us. Many figures in Africa have taken a stance to prove that it is possible for one to live with HIV/AIDS, from Beatrice Were to Gideon Byamugisha. Stigma can only be solved from our personal approach to HIV/AIDS, lets practice precautions, be responsible by getting tested, and most importantly accept our own statuses and the statuses of our loved ones.