discrimination and HIV/AIDS
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.
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.
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
based on international best practices are some of the ways we can reduce
stigma and discrimination.
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
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.
issue strong warnings to employers that employees ought not to be
discriminated against based on their HIV status. And finally;
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."