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HIV related stigma Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Dennis Nyakundi Onguti, Kenya Apr 13, 2007
Health   Opinions
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I had been following our contributions to the HIV/AIDS issue and reading through the various members' response to the issue. But of most important is the remark that Mr. Howard made in Australia which has fueled a lot of fury. As i read all the comments made, i felt the root of all this is stigma and the related perceptions and i dedicate this article to bring much more awareness on the issue of HIV related stigma.

Since the war against HIV/AIDS began as a problem in society, so much has been done in the medical field to find the way of combating it with national and international organizations being in the front line funding for medical provisions and running awareness programmes while NGOs and CBOs have grown so fast to meet the needs created out of HIV/AIDS and creating awareness. Every country has come with slogans to campaign against its spread. The “outsiders” have done their best to care for their brothers and sisters suffering. Only it has turned out that in spite of the efforts being made, there is one area which has been neglected and is doing a lot of disservice to all these efforts. This dimension is STIGMA. We cannot turn out the significance of these words: “You talk and I die.” It has been realized that “most persons infected with HIV/AIDS more often die from factors associated with stigmatization rather than from the physical effects of the scourge.”
Stigma in general is defined as a negative label that disgraces, shames someone/group not because their behavior is abnormal but due to the fact that the person/group has certain attributes that leads others to perceive him/her as different from them. But the HIV/AIDS related stigma in particular refers to a pattern of prejudice, discounting, discrediting and discrimination directed at people perceived to have HIV/AIDS, their significant others and close associates, and their social groups and communities. Therefore stigma is a mark of shame or discredit directed to a person because of his/her HIV status. These reactions leave us wondering what is so strange to HIV/AIDS that those infected and their close associate are labelled and discredited this way!
Stigma being such a deadly phenomenon, in this article I seek to address a number of issues raised by stigmatization. I will focus on factors contributing to HIV/AIDS stigma, forms of stigma, its impact especially to society.

HIV/AIDS in the common understanding of its acquisition is linked with the moral behaviour of the person. In other words, it is a behavioural disease. The HIV infection is associated with sexual behaviour and use of drugs. It affects those considered to be outside the “normal” behaviour of society like the gay, sex workers, drug users, illegal migrants, the poor among others. But also the scary experience of the terminal stages and death of the AIDS victims provide grounds for stigmatization. Some factors that lead to high stigmatization of the people living with HIV/AIDS include:
1. History of the disease.
The discovery of the HIV/AIDS as an incurable disease, it was found among the marginalised groups of society such as the prostitutes, gay, injecting drug users and generally the sexual deviants, the poor and the ignorant. This enabled to create a general stereotype that it is a disease of the social deviants who deserve condemnation and hostility.
2 Moral and religious beliefs.
The idealization of sex within marriage as beautiful and fulfilling tags sex outside marriage as temptation, immorality, sin and evil. Among some religious groups and church goers it is believed that those with the virus had committed immoral acts and put themselves outside the church community. This linkage ostracises those infected as immoral.
3 Fear of contagion.
Due to ignorance or misinformation, some people believe that even casual contacts with PLWHA, one will be infected. This fear makes family members to separate utensils and other facilities, in offices the HIV positive people are sacked while landlords have evacuated them from their premises. Doctors and nurses refuse to treat or admit people living with the virus for fear of exposure to HIV as a result of lack of protective equipments.
The fear of being infected cover not only the physical realm but the fear also extends to the social and moral taint by interacting with the stigmatized individuals.
4 The physical and economic effects of AIDS.
HIV infection is considered unalterable and degenerative. The final stages of AIDS and the wasting of the body create both fear and a certain revulsion among many people. So the sufferers are approached cautiously and even avoided and isolated. This makes them be discriminated in the social services and opportunities given them. The financial burden that lies at the terminal stages of AIDS in taking care of the sufferer is high and it causes a great material straining, that a family may run completely out of resources.

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Dennis Nyakundi Onguti

I am the sixth of eight children of a polygamous family. After graduating from high school, I was asked to help in a local girls secondary school teaching mathematics after the death of the teacher. This time was exciting and it was then that I had an opportunity to see my own potential and those of the young people. I realised encouragement and the availability of resources can unleash the inner strength of the young to do great things and I promised to dedicate myself to the service of the young. In 1999, I entered into a religious missionary congregation of the Consolata with the intention of becoming a priest so I can reach young people all over the world.
I finished my first degree in philosophy in 2003 with a diploma in religious studies. I took a one year break to one of the provinces for one year helping the young people to develop micro-scale business. It was really a beautiful experience!
I am currently pursuing a degree in Religious studies and a diploma in Youth Ministry.

Doris Carter | Sep 14th, 2018
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