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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

  

Stigma, discrimination and HIV/AIDS  

Patricia Watson, Senior Staff Reporter

AS NOTED last week, HIV/AIDS triggers widespread stigmatisation, much of which is due to society's fears and prejudices about sex and sexuality.

Stigmatisation in many cases leads to discrimination, where people are attacked or treated badly purely on the basis of being positive. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS, 2002), "the stigma and discrimination that people with HIV/AIDS face are unusually multiple and complex." It further states that "individuals tend not to be stigmatised and discriminated against only on the grounds of HIV/AIDS status, but also in accordance with what this connotes." Thus, women with HIV/AIDS may be doubly stigmatised both as 'women' and as 'people living with HIV/AIDS' when their identity becomes known or men who have sex with men living with HIV/AIDS may be stigmatised both because of their sexual practice and their status. The UNAIDS notes that this compounding of HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination by gender and or sexuality and other factors is important, both for our understanding of social responses to the epidemic.

It is universally recognised that fighting stigma and discrimination against people who are affected by HIV/AIDS is of extreme importance. In the case of Jamaica, unless employers are prevented from firing persons based solely on their HIV status or if the human rights of positive persons are continually violated, no matter how cheap drugs are, the epidemic will continue to spread. Overcoming stigma and discrimination will entail changing people's attitudes, which is difficult but not impossible.

    

One of the ways people living with HIV/AIDS can help themselves is to know their rights and make use of the legal system to correct injustices meted out to them. Many positive persons are unaware of their rights and it is therefore important that they are taught these rights so they can protect themselves. Human Rights groups in Jamaica need to become more proactive in protecting the rights of those infected as only with these powerful bodies standing firmly behind them, will people infected feel bold enough to challenge society's long-standing prejudices.

According to AVERT magazine (www.avert.org), it is at community and national level that HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination can be most effectively challenged. It notes that human rights issues can only be addressed if national and community leaders are committed to defending these rights. It also depends on the institutional mechanisms in place, such as courts and law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes against people living with HIV/AIDS.

The following, based on international best practices are some of the ways we can reduce stigma and discrimination.

Persons working in or familiar with HIV/AIDS issues must use opportunities presented to them to talk to people about HIV. Thus when persons express the view that they can 'get' HIV by touching or hugging, they should use the opportunity to educate.

We can also use our citizens associations or other civic organisations to talk about HIV. Community participation can greatly help to reduce fear and ignorance.

In a country where the church plays a major role in people's lives, the church must become involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy. Religious groups can be effective in promoting behaviour change by focusing on tolerance and human rights of people infected. The church can help to identify myths and misconceptions about HIV thus eliminating stigma and discrimination born as a result of ignorance.

    

Government should issue strong warnings to employers that employees ought not to be discriminated against based on their HIV status. And finally;

More involvement of people living with HIV in awareness campaigns. Until we are able to normalise HIV, people will continue to treat those affected by the disease badly. It is absolutely important that we create an environment where people with HIV/AIDS are seen as a 'normal' part of the society, like diabetics or persons with cancer. As one HIV individual noted, "it is not AIDS that is killing us, but the way society treats us."

 

 

 

 

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