AIDS stigma and discrimination exist worldwide, although they manifest themselves differently across countries, communities, religious groups and individuals. They occur alongside other forms of stigma and discrimination, such as racism, stigma based on physical appearance, homophobia or misogyny and can be directed towards those involved in what are considered socially unacceptable activities such as prostitution or drug use. Stigma not only makes it more difficult for people trying to come to terms with HIV and manage their illness on a personal level, but it also interferes with attempts to fight the HIV and AIDS epidemic as a whole. On a national level, the stigma associated with HIV can deter governments from taking fast, effective action against the epidemic, whilst on a personal level it can make individuals reluctant to access HIV testing, treatment and care.
HIV and AIDS is one of the biggest challenges we face as a country. The rate of infection is rapidly increasing and more and more people are getting ill and dying from AIDS. Of all the people living with AIDS in the world, According to estimates by WHO and UNAIDS, 35.3 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2012. That same year, some 2.3 million people became newly infected, and 1.6 million died of AIDS-related causes.
Individuals, families and communities are badly affected by the epidemic. The burden of care falls on the families and children of those who are ill. Often they have already lost a breadwinner and the meager resources they have left are not enough to provide care for the ill person and food for the family.
Children who are orphaned are often deprived not only of parental care, but also of financial support. Many of them leave school and have no hope of ever getting a decent education or job. These children who grow up without any support or guidance from adults may become our biggest problem in the future.
Most of the people who are dying are between the ages of 20 and 45 – an age when most people are workers and parents. This has serious consequences for our economy and the development of the country and world.
AIDS can affect anyone. But it is clear that it is spreading faster to people who live in poverty and lack access to education, basic health services, nutrition and clean water. Young people and women are the most vulnerable. Women are often powerless to insist on safe sex and easily become infected by HIV positive partners. When people have other diseases like sexually transmitted diseases, TB, HCV or malaria they are also more likely to contract and die from AIDS.
Although AIDS has become very common it is still surrounded by silence. People are ashamed to speak about being infected and many see it as a scandal when it happens in their families. People living with AIDS are exposed to daily prejudice born out of ignorance and fear.
We cannot tackle this epidemic unless we can break the silence and remove the stigma [shame] that surrounds it. As leaders in our communities we have to provide leadership on how to deal with AIDS.
The fight against AIDS has to happen on two main fronts – prevention and care. To prevent the spread of AIDS we have to educate people on how to prevent infection. We also have to change the social attitudes that make people vulnerable because they cannot refuse unsafe sex from a partner and the attitudes among men that lead to woman abuse and rape. Poverty alleviation and development are also important programmes that will limit the spread of AIDS.
To deal with the results of the disease and the social problems it creates, we have to make sure that people living with AIDS get care and support to help them live longer and healthier lives. We also have to make sure that those who are dying are properly looked after. For the children who are left orphaned we have to find ways of looking after them so that they do not become hopeless and turn to crime or live on the streets because of poverty.
AIDS can reverse the gains we have made in our struggle to build a better life for our people. Government cannot fight this battle alone. Government can provide health and welfare services, development programs and information. Organizations on the ground have to provide the type of leadership and direction that will lead to real change in people’s attitudes and behavior.
It is also the responsibility of every individual to support the fight against AIDS. The rest of this guide gives details of what we can do. These campaigns will not only the lead the voice of certain community but the whole world.