A new study has revealed that the commonest form of stigma in Uganda against people living with HIV is gossip, verbal insults and threats. The People Living with HIV Stigma Index Report, 2013 which was launched today in Kampala shows that out of 1000 HIV positive people surveyed, 23 percent reported losing jobs, and some were discriminated at work by either their co-workers or employers in 2012.
The HIV Stigma Index research was conducted in 18 districts in Uganda by National Forum of People Living with HIV Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU) with support from UNAIDS and Uganda AIDS Commission.
Furthermore, the study shows low education levels among HIV positive people, yet education majorly contributes to self awareness and may influence life situations. 50 percent of the respondents had primary school education, another 17 percent had no formal education, and only seven percent had attained college or university education. The study also notes that the most educated rarely join networks of people living with HIV and therefore could not be reached by the survey.
The study states that income levels among HIV positive people are generally low with about 60 percent of people earning less than 250,000 shillings every month. Irrespective of their income levels, this group has high incidences of poverty. This is mainly because of expenses such as transportation to health facilities for drug refills, purchase of recommended medicines that may not be readily available in clinics, food requirements and other social needs. In Uganda, about 1.5 million people are HIV positive, so there is need to address this income gap for sustained development.
The Chairman of Uganda AIDS Commission, Prof. Vinand Nantulya said, “The HIV Stigma Index report aims to document stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS. This empirical evidence will be used in advocating for effecting changes in the national HIV and AIDS response.” Meanwhile, the UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Musa Bungudu said, “The Government of Uganda should uphold non discriminatory laws to ensure persons living with HIV have equal rights to gainful employment, access to health care, and social inclusion.”
Stella Kentusi, the Executive Director of NAFOPHANU, a community based organization that supports people living with HIV said, “Stigma is a degrading attitude of the society that discredits a person or a group because of an attribute such as illness, in this case HIV status.” She said, stigma destroys a person’s dignity; marginalizes affected individuals; violates basic human rights; markedly diminishes the chances of a stigmatized person of achieving full potential.
Today it is generally agreed that HIV/AIDS is the most stigmatized medical condition world over. Persons who have acquired HIV are subjected to layers upon layers of stigma with assumptions that these individuals are deserving of punishment for their “assumed behavior that led them to get HIV” and they are often shunned.
A biased attitude towards HIV infected people must be stopped. Stigma prevents individuals from getting tested for HIV, seeking medical care, disclosing diagnosis and in adhering to treatment and follow up. Fear of social abandonment and losing intimate partners prevents many with HIV from sharing the diagnosis with their loved ones and sexual partners. As a result, stigma has become a major reason why HIV epidemic continues and thousands of people are getting infected and dying with HIV every year.