Stigma thwarts HIV fight

The fight against HIV is hindered by the stigma that people continue to attach to the virus, Judge Edwin Cameron said on Thursday evening.

"We haven't advanced because the stigma, both internal and external, still exists," he said at the re-launch of the HIV and Aids Charter by the Aids Consortium at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg.

"HIV still carries that branded stigma... people being thrown out of their houses and being thrown out of their jobs. There is still too much silence, too many deaths... too much suffering."

A powerful obstacle
Cameron described internal stigma as "one of the powerful obstacles" that hindered the fight against HIV. "We have to fight internal stigma... people who think by testing, they will have a mark on their foreheads pronouncing their status," he said.

This he said, resulted in thousands of people dying each day, although 700 000 people were on antiretrovirals.

'No political commitment'
Also speaking at the launch was Mark Heywood of the South African National Aids Council. He said the fight against the virus was in vain because the government did not have "political commitment".

"There is a long way to go before we get to freedom... normality around HIV. This year, the government is R1 million short for the rollout of ARVs... it says it's got political commitment, but as the deputy chairman of Sanac I don't see it.

"We have a life skills programme in shambles in schools. It doesn't equip our children to deal with the virus and the dangers surrounding it."

Aids deaths due to stigma
A Constitutional Court Judge, Cameron established the Aids Consortium in 1992 in a bid to promote a non-discriminatory response to HIV and Aids.

The Aids Consortium's founding document was the Aids Charter, which set out the basic human rights of people living with HIV and Aids.

By re-launching the charter, the Aids Consortium hoped to help reduce the number of people who "died from despair because of the stigma attached to the virus".

The consortium's executive director Denise Hunt said: "The re-launch is the beginning of a process of engagement where the Aids Consortium calls for further interrogation and discussions on stigma and discrimination as one of the root deterrents to positive living."

She said the aim was to "shift HIV from being a terminal illness to being a chronic illness".

As a result the consortium launched projects like Bua, Maitiso and the heroes campaign.

The first two projects, Hunt said, were aimed at getting people to open up and talk openly about the virus and allow people living with the virus to "celebrate their lives".

The heroes campaign was aimed at "identifying community champions" and celebrities who would be able to share their experiences with infected and affected people. – (Sapa, June 2009)

Read more:
Understanding HIV stigma essential
Sociocultural aspects of HIV/AIDS

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