Despite positive efforts by government and civic society to combat the AIDS pandemic, there are some incidents of stigma and discrimination against HIV positive people, a non-governmental organization has said.
According to statistics in a survey conducted by Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (ZNPP+), HIV positive people are still labeled and generally discriminated against in most spheres of life.
Stigmatization of people infected with virus is still prevalent in the country, standing at above 65% levels, with different forms of discrimination prevalent at workplaces, in families and other social spaces.
Speaking on the sidelines of a campaign to fight against stigma and discrimination at Murambinda Growth Point, organised by SAFAIDS recently, ZNPP+ provincial coordinator Lloyd Dembure said this trend was worrying.
He said there was need for society to remove preconception and stereotypes which were pushing some HIV positive people to default on Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART), while discouraging other from getting tested.
“There have been a lot of stereotypes peddled around the transmission of HIV where it is viewed as a by-product of promiscuity and immoral activities and all this moral baggage attached to HIV has negative effects.
“For the person who is infected. an environment that is discriminatory may lead to lack of adherence and default on ART, while this can also lead to non-disclosure and an increase in new infections,” he said.
He called for the society to cultivate an environment that enables HIV positive people to share information freely, especially to young people.
SafAIDS country training, advocacy and programmes co-coordinator Adolf Mavheneke said health access was a fundamental human rights issue which needed to be critically guaranteed by all members of the society.
He said the various forms of discrimination ranged from exclusion, name calling, insults, dismissal from employment and sexual rejection.
“The forms of stigma range from exclusion from social gatherings, discrimination by partners, exclusion from family activities, dismissal or suspension from work or educational institutions, exclusion from religious activities or places of worship, and sexual rejection to discrimination from within [from other PLHIV]
“All these forms of discrimination are as a result of the lack of knowledge that health issues are human rights issues guaranteed in Section 76 of the Constitution, so people should understand that health rights are human rights,” he said.
District AIDS Coordinator of the National Aids Council Devias Tsengamai said Murambinda was identified as one of HIV hotspots hence there was need to continuously spread HIV related information.
He said stigma and discrimination is an issue that needed combined effort to be defeated as it entails changes of behaviour.
“Murambinda was identified as one of the HIV/AIDs hotspots nationally, where a hotspot describes a geographical area with high HIV incidents and practices that cause transmission especially social and economic activities.
“Holding such informative meetings to fight against stigma and discrimination is a step in the right direction because we need to change people’s behaviour and as NAC we will also complement these efforts,” said Tsengamai.
Social prejudice, intolerance and lack of understanding of gender diversity was at the center of HIV and TB related stigma and discrimination and consequent denial of health services among key populations.
ZNNP+ also did a rapid assessment survey with SafAIDS, which revealed that discrimination hindered people living with HIV and sex workers from accessing HIV and TB prevention, treatment and care support services.