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HIV related stigma Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Dennis Nyakundi Onguti, Kenya Apr 13, 2007
Health   Opinions


It is argued that stigma is a powerful tool for the social control over some way-ward behaviours in society. In the African society it was common when someone was considered having deviated from the norms of the tribe. The person was discriminated or given a name of discretion.
Stigma instills fear in other individuals influencing them to adapt positive behaviour, for this case to avoid the HIV infection, lest they also get stigmatized. However the effects of HIV/AIDS related stigma has proved seriously destructive. The common saying that AIDS attacks the body and stigma attacks the spirit and both can kill is too hard to underestimate. the effects are to the individual and to society at large. I will start with effects to the individual person living with HIV/AIDS.

1. Psycho-social effects to the individual.
A person socially isolated, neglected or rejected gets a feeling of loneliness, self-hate, regrets, self-blame and bitterness which leads to depression. The state of depression worsens the social relationships with those who visit and the caregivers. At the same time, the infected person loses a feeling of self-love, value and dignity which makes one lose the will to live. This psychological situation accelerates the progression of HIV into AIDS leading to early death or even committing suicide. It is a shared experience that many of the surviving PLWHA have either attempted or contemplated suicide due to the fact of stigmatization. It also follows that some of those who have lost the will to live, decide not to seek medical treatment when required or stop the dosage prescribed.
Similarly those who are denied the legal and social amenities and opportunities, experience the same feelings and may end up in the same way.
Families too have disintegrated due to stigma. Spouses have deserted their partners, people neglected by their relatives, friends or family have created a big gap with those living with HIV/AIDS. We hear some people who tell their story with swearing that they have nothing to do with their blood families because of the stigma they have received from this circle.

2. Effects to Society.
Fear of discrimination from stigma often prevents people from seeking treatment for AIDS or from admitting their status publicly. This situation affects the prevention, control and care strategies/mechanisms and this risks the society at large.
Stigma deters people at risk from being tested and seeking information and the assistance for risk reduction. So, people go on with their life which perpetuates more infections and faster progression of HIV to AIDS.
A far reaching fear not testing is that people who do not know their HIV-status cannot adopt appropriate behaviour change. It sometimes turn out that people who have lived a promiscuous life assume they are already infected which may not be the case and they go on with the behaviour putting them at a greater risk.
Stigma hampers care-seeking behaviour. Self-isolation, discrimination, or fear of coming out publicly inhibits information sharing among partners and potential caregivers. It promotes denial and rejects openness thus contributing to further spread of the virus.
In society stigma creates an attitude of condemnation of the infected and the caregivers. This turns diagnosis into accusation which is shameful to the PLWHA and their immediate family. It forces families to hide their patients from the public or do not reveal the true sickness of the sufferer. The accusations received create a notion that it is a form of punishment from God consequently making the sufferers sometimes to turn against God and refuse any spiritual care.
At an extreme, the stigmatized person may deliberately start spreading the virus. She/he may feel bitter with the society at large and decide to spread the virus to many people as possible.

3 Economic effects
The stigmatized person who otherwise would have lead a normal life and being productive, are discriminated from job opportunities of health facilities making them economic dependants of facilitate their death. This makes the society to lose the productive persons. As the reports say, the infected are greatly the productive age. Worse if the stigmatized person is the sole bread-winner, the whole family is turned into absolute poverty.
Early deaths of parents due to stigma leave behind orphans for the society to take care. In the third world countries, these orphans turn into the streets or become the abused members of society.
Fear of coming out publicly which hampers the sharing of prevention, control and care-giving strategies strain the individuals economic status since they are to rely absolutely on themselves. Moreover, the campaign funds used could have been directed into more urgent needs of the PLWHA.

4 Religious effects.
The notion that AIDS is a punishment from God jeopardizes the understanding of God as a loving and merciful Father who never avenges on his people. At the same time the PLWHA, their family members, relatives and friends may turn indifferent to religious issues due to a wrong perception of God and also refuse any spiritual care.


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Writer Profile
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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