An index survey among people living with and affected by HIV/Aids in central and south-western Uganda has shown that stigma, both internal and external, is still very high.
The one year survey conducted by Nsambya Home Care (NHC) and Kitovu Mobile (KM), both Aids support organisastions, in partnership with the National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids (NAFOPHANU)between December 2014- December 2015 involved both a baseline and end line survey.
During the baseline survey conducted in the six districts of Kampala, Masaka Wakiso, Mukono, Sembabule and Kalungu, at the beginning of the project, the stigma rate was found to be at 53.7 per cent.
As an intervention strategy, the consortium involved faith based leaders and People Living with HIV/Aids (PLHIV) as change agents to preach against stigma against people with HIV/Aids, console and counsel them.
"During this survey, we found out that internal stigma characterised by loss of hope, self-condemnation and suicidal thoughts were predominant especially among those patients who had just been tested positive," Ms Stella Katutsi, the executive director of NAFOPHANU said.
Ms Katutsi also noted that the survey which targeted people of ages 18 and above also revealed that gossip was the most common form of external stigma although it had reduced compared to internal stigma.
However, despite the 20 per cent stigma reduction target of the project, Dr Robinah Sentongo the executive director of Kitovu Mobile said the end line survey indicated the stigma levels had dropped by 33 per cent to 35.0 per cent at the end of the project.
"The biggest reduction was in the 30-39 year age group from 61.1 per cent in 2014 to 39.59 per cent in 2015," Dr Sentongo said.
Speaking at the survey report launch in Kampala last week, Prof Vinand Nantulya, the executive director of Uganda Aids Commission, applauded the initiative noting that it would be hard for the country to win the war against HIV/Aids unless "we tackle stigma."
"We need to bring everyone to come on board and tell society that people infected with HIV/Aids are part of us," Prof Nantulya said.
The intervention was in line with the Millenium development goals (MDGS), target 6 which among others aimed to achieve global access to treatment for HIV/Aids.
There are approximately 1.6 million people living with HIV in Uganda according to official figures although the 2013 HIV/Aids Uganda country progress report by the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (Unaidss) indicated that only 793,893 people living with the virus were on antiretroviral therapy.
The survey randomly sampled 2,018 people living and affected with, HIV, 1,380 females and 638 males at baseline of which 1980 (1,440 females: 540males) were followed up at the end line.
Additionally, qualitative data was collected through focus group discussions and key informant interviews.