HIV is not just a medical issue – it’s also a social one.
Research conducted around the world on attitudes towards, and reactions to, people living with HIV indicates that people all behave and react in the same way no matter where they are. And the reasons for their behaviour are universal, too. A Heart International article on the social consequences of HIV stigma gives us these reasons for the prevalence of the HIV stigma:
- HIV is life-threatening.
- People are scared of it.
- HIV is already linked to stigmatised groups.
- People with HIV are seen as personally responsible.
- It’s caused by a ‘moral fault’.
What are the consequences of the HIV stigma?
It may be unthinkable to many of us that people living with HIV are shunned by their own family, peers and community but this is the reality that many HIV+ individuals experience every day. It’s the stigma attached to HIV that makes the disease more devastating and unconquerable than it actually is. Avert.org gives a good insight into the consequences borne from the stigma;
Side-lined from society
People living with HIV are “increasingly marginalised not only from society but from the services they need to protect themselves from HIV.”
People “are reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status and take antiretroviral drugs.”
Having to deal with the stigma also “interferes with attempts to fight the global HIV and AIDS epidemic as a whole.”
Stigma has “an equally damaging effect on the mental wellbeing of people living with HIV. This fear of discrimination breaks down confidence to seek help and medical care.
“Self-stigma and fear of a negative community reaction can hinder efforts to address the HIV epidemic by continuing the wall of silence and shame surrounding the virus.”
How bad is the HIV stigma in SA?
According to the recently released The People Living With HIV Stigma Index: South Africa 2014, “moderate levels of HIV-related external and internalised stigma and discrimination were found,” suggesting that headway has been made in recent years. ‘Moderate’ may not seem to be a concerning level when we see such a statistic in an article like this one. But think about that for a second.
These findings mean that there is evidence of:
- Stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV in the health care sector.
- People living with HIV experiencing exclusion from social activities.
- People living with HIV experiencing being gossiped about, verbally assaulted and physically harassed.
Of the total respondents in the study, 36% experience external stigma and 43% experience internalised stigma.
Who is best placed to determine whether these findings are acceptable? Only the community they represent, no doubt. But surely, the only goal can be, as noted in the HIV Stigma Index, zero HIV stigma.