Rwanda: Activists - Ending Stigma Against HIV/Aids Starts With Medics

Rwandan and Mozambican presidents Paul Kagame and Filipe Nyusi, First Lady Jeannette Kagame and her counterparts from around the continent, as well as other high-profile delegates in a group photo after the opening of the ICASA 2019 conference in Kigali.
2 December 2019

Zambian-born Bernard Chanda, 21, started taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs immediately he was diagnosed with HIV. He was still in primary school at the time.

After some time, he developed some skin rashes, as a side effect of the medicine he was taking.

Back in his 8th grade, the pain of the virus got bitter after teachers at his school separated him from other students, saying that he would infect them with "his skin condition."

He says that the stigma at school lasted over a year.

As if that wasn't enough, Chanda also faced stigma from health workers whereby they publicly named him after the virus in his body.

"I was stigmatised at hospital, where they would say that me "who live with HIV should go aside" and wait for my own doctor," told The New Times, adding that: "All of this got me uncomfortable."

Chanda's problems that he shares with many others is what brought together activists, advocates and other stakeholders, to look at how stigma and discrimination against HIV positives can be dealt with.

The session that took place on Monday is part of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) that started in Kigali on Monday and will go through December 7.

The session was dubbed: Stigma and discrimination – how to win the battle.

The largest gathering on HIV/AIDS on the African continent brought together about 10,000 delegates, to join efforts in responding to HIV/AIDS.

"Stigma and discrimination is still being enhanced by the community, and this is mainly caused by less comprehensive information around HIV prevention, how it's spread and many others," said Martha Clara Nakato, Advocate and member of Uganda Network of Young People living with HIV/AIDS.

Medics must take lead

Damaris Nyamweya who is a health care provider in Kenya, has faced discrimination and stigma from her place of work, where fellow workers couldn't use the same cup as hers because of her status as HIV positive, which she says wasn't a good experience.

"It is not an easy experience because the results you get are different from what you expected from these kind of people whom you even spend most of your time with," she said.

If you are working in a health facility that provides service to HIV patients, make sure you treat them with care because they expect a lot from you to help them overcome what they consistently go through, Nyamweya emphasized.

Self-stigmatisation

The participants highlighted on the role of HIV patients in causing and fighting the stigma.

"Self-stigmatization comes in when people living with HIV haven't yet admitted their state, and this ultimately result in not taking ARV drugs; which make the case much worse," said Nakato.

Damaris Nyamweya, who is from Kenya also noted that "HIV positive should own our status, and start working towards living a healthier life."

She continued to say that: "We should get to a point of being free to talk about our status to those who will help us, and even to those we will help to conquer the same experience."

Law enforcement

Nakato reiterated that "Some of the people who discriminate and stigmatize HIV patients do it unknowingly. The grass root communities should be engaged to be taught on when one is said to have stigmatized or discriminated people living with HIV."

But most importantly, we should have laws that protect HIV positives and help them take legal actions if needed, she added.

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