Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fighting HIV/AIDS stigma

Reported by: James Masauko
Written by: Krystle Praestiin

Speaking out against stigma & discrimination
HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination viciously attaches itself to People Living with HIV/AIDS causing added grief and pain. Stigma and discrimination are rooted in misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge and it manifests itself in many ways including: being denied care during sickness, social exclusion, people being afraid to shake hands or share kitchen utensils, and even being denied employment.

ADRA Malawi through advocacy initiatives and strong partnerships is continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination- an issue that became vastly apparent to ADRA staff during numerous community dialogue sessions held in July.

A crowd gathers to watch a Drama protraying HIV/AIDs issues
We are partnering with key community leaders such as: the District Health Office, the District Assembly, Area Development Committees, Village Development Committees, and health experts to raise awareness on issues like stigma, to address knowledge gaps and to promote the rights of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

Currently, we are working in 25 Group Village Heads (GVHs) divided into 7 zones  and have been conducting community meetings, traditional dances, dramas, talks and video screenings. Our messages are about HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS prevention, the importance of testing, and disclosing a person’s status, as well as, the effects of stigma and human rights. We also have brought mobile HIV testing “clinics” to the communities far from local health facilities.

Mobile HIV testing Clinic
With these messages, ADRA Malawi wants people to no longer fear getting HIV tests or fear telling people they are HIV positive because fearing these two things is preventing people from getting help and it is also fuelling the spread of HIV.

In addition, our main aim is to reverse stories like the one about a woman from Group Village Head Chambala, who after 2 months of Anti-Retroviral Treatments was forced to stop because she was too sick to collect them herself, and no family member or friend was willing to collect them for her. Their misconceptions, stigma and fears prevented them from caring for their own family.

Group Counselling session

Sadly, this is just one story of many. Through awareness raising, knowledge gap bridging and human rights promotion ADRA Malawi wants to encourage people to fight stigma by respecting the rights and needs of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The good news is that since the commencement of these activities many people are now aware of HIV/AIDS issues including stigma and discrimination. We hope an impact will be realised as we go on working with different CBGs and stakeholders.

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