Shame, inferiority, suicidal thoughts crush people living with HIV – study

2015-06-11 12:53
The South African Aids conference taking place in Durban. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/City Press

The South African Aids conference taking place in Durban. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/City Press

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One in four South Africans who are HIV positive suffer from internalised stigma and 11% of them have thought about committing suicide because of the burden they carry inside.

This was revealed by a new survey which tracked levels of stigma among HIV-positive individuals.

The findings of the Stigma Index survey were released at the four-day South African Aids conference taking place in Durban until Friday.

The survey was conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council on behalf of the South African National Aids Council

Explaining the findings this week, Dr Fareed Abdullah, chief executive officer of the council, said that the South African Stigma Index showed that HIV- and TB-related stigma remained a multifaceted problem because it was so diverse.

“It is particularly worrying that 11% of those interviewed said they had experienced suicidal feelings. Equally concerning is the fact that 43% of participants said that they suffered ‘internalised stigma’, a sense of shame and inferiority that often results in the affected individual withdrawing from society and refusing opportunities to live a full life and achieve his or her potential,” Abdullah said.

More than 10 000 HIV-positive people participated in the survey. This would mean that 1100 had thought about killing themselves because of their HIV status.

Sindisiwe Blose, who was the project leader for the Stigma Index, said this highlighted that discrimination could alter the entire course of an individual’s life.

She explained that during the survey, researchers heard from people living with HIV who had refused marriage due to stigma, some had avoided work promotion, or had been coerced into undergoing sterilisation.

“Behind the figures lies a depth of suffering that struggles to be addressed. If four out of 10 of these people reported that they experienced internalised stigma, imagine how much worse the situation is among [people] who are newly diagnosed, isolated and bearing the burden alone,” Blose said.

On the positive side, the survey showed that each form of external stigma or discrimination only affected a small proportion of people living with HIV. About nine out of 10 respondents indicated that they had been treated fairly in the workplace, at health and educational institutions, and in less formal social circles.

Nine key findings of the stigma survey are:

» More than 10 000 HIV positive people participated in the survey, making the largest survey of its kind in the world;

» One-third of people living with HIV still experience stigma from their communities. This is lower than other countries in Africa but similar to Zimbabwe;

» More than 40% of people living with HIV experience internalised stigma;

» 11% had thought about killing themselves because of HIV-related stigma;

» About one-third experienced TB related stigma;

» The three provinces with the highest HIV prevalence, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State, also experience the highest levels of stigma;

» Stigma is highest among women and young people aged 15 to 24 years;

» About 90% of the partcipants had disclosed their status to their spouse or partner;

» More than 90% of partcipants had undergone pre- and post-test counselling; and

» More than nine out of 10 (94%) felt that they were in good or excellent health.

Read more on:    aids  |  hiv

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