People living with HIV are still victims of stigma and discrimination!
Nov 21, 2022 - 11:59
The Rwandan Networkof People living with HIV (RRP+) is of the view that people with HIV are still stigmatized and excluded in different fields of our everyday life. According to RRP+, this behavior affects people living with HIV in different ways, including non-adherence to medical advice and to treatment. Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) does not go far from this principle but states that in collaboration with partners such as RRP+, it took the lead in the fight against HIV- related stigma and discrimination among people living with HIV.
The research conducted by the Rwanda Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (RRP+) and Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) in 2020 on stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV, conducted in different parts of the country, shows that 13% of people living with HIV are still stigmatized and marginalized.
Jean Baptiste TWIZEYIMANA, who is in charge of monitoring and coordinating activities in RRP+, especially in the fight against stigma and discrimination among the people living with HIV, says that although the government has done a lot in the last 10 years, stigma still prevails.
TWIZEYIMANA says: " Discrimination is still noticeable in banks, where a person living with HIV has to present an insurance certificate attesting that he/she has no incurable diseases. In boarding schools, the students are searched to check for any evidence of HIV infection. In some religious denominations, you get married only when you have shown your HIV status. At the family level, some people still have mindsets that push them to stigmatize their spouses living with HIV."
This is further confirmed by GASANA Michel, who works for Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC). According to him, research has shown that about 13% of people living with HIV are still stigmatized.
He says, "stigma is still there, although it is decreasing. It is still noticeable in some categories of society. Through research as well as information provided by beneficiaries about the groups where they belong, it appears that stigma still exists and that it requires synergy with different institutions so that people can eradicate it."
GASANA said that these groups are noticeable, especially among the youths and other special groups including sex workers, as well as men who have sex with other men (MSM).
He further said, "If people without HIV are marginalized, it is quite clear that there is no way people living with HIV can be accepted into the company."
He said that this was even aggravated during the Covid-19 period. It became clear that misunderstandings emerged in most non-concordant couples, and these ones decided to live in separate bedrooms of the same house. TWIZEYIMANA says this is a problem, especially when the non-infected member of the couple refuses to go with the infected partner for counseling.
GASANA goes on to explain, "For us, we are lucky. Our people take antiretroviral drugs and are consulted by different people, including peer mentors, and staff in health centers and hospitals. you are then counseled on how to behave, depending on the treatment regimen. So, it becomes a problem if your partner refuses to go for counselling."
TWIZEYIMANA believes that other areas where stigma is noticeable is in society, especially at village level, simply because there is still a problem of mindset, information, and the perception that people do not have enough information on HIV.
He said, “some of the challenges we face are that there are people who do not understand what HIV is. How is HIV transmitted? What does a person on ARVs look like? Are you still referred to as people living with HIV? The sick! Those ones are There! All this makes the others sit there, as they usually feel, and say that it is clear that our neighbors do not understand it well."
He says that they are marginalized and that it makes them feel insecure wherever they are.
According to RBC, even parents feel that at school, their children should not sit with infected fellow students. In addition, being born to a mother known to have HIV, makes you stigmatized.
GASANA said: "A child may be known to have an HIV-infected parent while he/she may be HIV-negative. But, basing on the parent’s status, these children will always be stigmatized by their friends. Obviously, this false information is passed on to children from their parents or other adults."
GASANA confirms that this stigma, although not at a high level, is done on family members of an HIV-infected person.
There are also cases of self-stigma.
Apart from those who are stigmatized by others, GASANA says that up to now, there are even those who stigmatize themselves, and this coerces them from asking for different services, including health services, and that seriously affects their health.
He goes on to say, “This is likely to interfere with self-care, adherence to treatment, and compliance with medical appointments and counseling. This eventually results in viral load increase due to that kind of stigma."
Regarding these problems prevailing among people living with HIV, TWIZEYIMANA says that RRP+ is helping by its advocacy to the government of Rwanda. In addition, there is a related sensitization campaign and close contact with these people.
This is coupled with the intervention of Rwanda Biomedical Center-RBC, through its HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. According to GASANA, employed at RBC, this campaign is carried out with the help of Peer Counselors on the one hand, and on the other hand, through presentations organized by health center workers on occasions such as community meetings.
He goes on to say, "we also need to consider building capacity for people living with HIV, given that once they feel economically secure, stigma is no longer a big problem. Therefore, we try to reach them, bring them together, and put them in groups or associations. During community meetings, these individuals often ask for floor HIV/AIDS sensitization because they have a better understanding."
In addition to this, he also says that school authorities, including directors of discipline, have had refresher courses on HIV/AIDS, and related workshops have been organized for students in boarding schools. And that has been quite effective.
On the part of financial institutions such as banks, GASANA says that they are looking into how their operations can be tailored so as not to affect people living with HIV. However, up to now, certain administrative documents indicating one’s HIV status have already been eliminated. HIV-negative status is also no longer a condition to get a job.