Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Stigma, discrimination against people living with HIV still threatening

After having been forced to retire voluntarily, Alphonse Bantanzi (not his real name) a 55 year old man and a resident of Kipunguni ‘B’ in Ukonga, Ilala district in Dar es Salaam region has been facing a number of challenges in his lifetime since he left his job almost 20 years ago. Bantanzi, a former employee with the Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (TANESCO) was discovered to have been infected with the HIV disease in a national voluntary testing campaign kit which was carried countrywide in mid 1990s. This was among earlier national campaign programmes ever took place in those days with a view to comprehensively put in records the national statistics for people living with HIV/AIDS disease in the country. Five years after the voluntary test Bantanzi’s condition began to deteriorate, the situation that posed a great threat among his fellow workers including his employer who with less knowledge they had about the disease at that time began to stigmatize him for fear of being infected also.  He realized the growing resentments against him as he tried without success to make any acquaintances with his co-workers, an aspect which he says made him to accept the offer of having his job terminated. However, the decision to terminate his job came into being when he resolved his mind after having realized of being incapable himself to provide enough physical strength he was required to do according to the nature of the job he was doing. The work largely involved carrying electricity logs and digging holes on which to fix them whenever there is a construction project going on such as the transmission lines from one point to another. He hated the job for it had later on became overburdened for him to manage as it requires use of extra energy while performing masculine task. The possibility of making him to survive anymore grew less for in earlier years after the discoveries of the life prolonging drugs commonly referred to as Anti-Retroviral drug or in short ARV were not in abundant supply in most African countries an aspect that many HIV victims died sooner. Exposing his entire life expectancy to the writer of this news, Bantanzi laments that, since the death of his wife six years ago, he has not been normal psychologically due to his body unrest a situation that is exacerbated by the growing fear which has risen within himself despite of the fact that he is using the ARV drugs. He sometimes feels unhappy for he doesn’t have anyone to accompany him or have chats and exchange ideas together, and due to such unfriendly attitude shown by his relatives and few friends he is always insecure with important happenings around. He says that, abuse and maltreatment directed to him by some people including his own relatives is quite intolerable that he has never found a solution to the problem that could let him live around like other people up to now. According to one medical psychologist on human brain Dr. Nicolus Owuor of the Nairobi Hospital in Kenya, “someone might psychologically become affected if comes into contact with the bad effects caused as a result of stigmatization or discrimination for that matter as related with the HIV/AIDS virus infections”. According to him, the HIV/AIDS disease whose cure is not yet discovered has become the most feared disease in the community and the world at large because many people drives their mindset and think about death that is the only cure. In this scenario victims are not happy at all. The trend of this attitude has negatively impacted on the development of mankind as people in societies keeps on showing negative attitudes towards their colleagues whom they know might die at such unlikely time of the year. Although such people know exactly what they are doing is not in line with the aspects of humanitarian grounds, the community has tried to stop the trend but in vain. Moreover, it has become so difficult to control the menace as most HIV/AIDS cases are yet to be reported and made publicly known by members of the community especially in rural areas. Stigma can take many forms from abuse of people with HIV to denial of services to routine practices that inadvertently marginalize people who are suspected to be HIV positive.

An HIV/AIDS Victim who is admitted at the hospital.

Stigma about HIV and AIDS exists at the level of individuals, institutions and in the government.  Confronting stigma and discrimination is critical to effective HIV prevention efforts and reducing the impact of the disease in communities and among families and individuals in Tanzania has become a difficult task indeed. Recent statistics by the National Council of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NACOPHA) shows that, in Tanzania, the rate of stigma and discrimination against people with HIV disease is increasing year after year, and that quite a great number of HIV victims are psychologically affected. In general, 75 percent of men and 60 percent of women are involved in acts of stigmatization. However, cases of stigma are somewhat higher in rural areas than in urban centers, probably due to education and awareness on HIV/AIDS related issues as these have been lower in the latter setting. NACOPHA’s Chairperson Vitalis Makuyala says that, the increased rate of discrimination going on in various parts in local communities has discouraged a number of people from undertaking voluntary testing in order to know their HIV status. According to him, religious leaders are very influential and thus are that should use this influence to encourage education of stigma cases. However, he says that by knowing the already infected number of people, his council would be in a position to easily tackle the scourge and lower the rising trend as the already affected group would automatically be in a position to join the dose for ARV drugs. According to him, this is the basic way of fighting against the scourge although quite the majority of people around in various communities fear to go for a voluntary testing because once they knew that they were infected would risk being stigmatized.  Makuyala has raised a serious concern for the possibility to enact a law in order to penalize those who are fond of stigmatizing the infected individuals in the country noting that a state of affair has instilled fear to undergo tests to determine their health status.  In view of the prevailing situation, he has called upon Tanzanians to join hands in a collaborative effort so as to end the escalating stigmatization and discrimination attitude shown against AIDS sufferers noting that it is the only means to let people come for voluntary testing. Much HIV/AIDS related stigma builds upon and reinforces earlier negative thoughts. People with HIV/AIDS are often believed to have deserved what has happened to them, being thought of doing something wrong on their lives. A human rights activist John Majaliwa says that, “it is also necessary when analyzing the roots and results of stigma to demonstrate how different groups experiences stigma and most particularly how men and women are differently affected by it.  According tom him, stigma is linked to power and domination throughout society as a whole for it pays a key role as it creates social inequality. It further has its origin deep within the structure of society as a whole and in the norms and values that govern much of everyday life.  For example, he says that long standing ideologies of gender inequality have resulted in women being blamed for the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Through campaigns people’s social attitudes might have a negative change towards the matter and participatory education can help individuals place themselves to respect those who suffer discrimination and thereby appreciate the injustices of discriminatory actions, he said. According to him, in Tanzania here, one important observation is that most of these reported cases involve people living with HIV disease in urban areas can at least afford to access hospital treatment. People in rural areas have a disadvantage for this for reasons ranging from ignorance where there is still a belief that those suffering from HIV related cases have been bewitched. As tools for tackling HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination, policy and legal reform stakeholders have a limited impact unless supported by the values and expectations of a society as a whole.

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