By Elvis Basudde and Juliet Waiswa
Gossiping is the commonest form of stigma amongst persons living with HIV and AIDS, according to the report by People Living with HIV (PLHIV) Stigma Index Report, 2013. The report puts gossiping at 62% and is followed by verbal harassment, insults and threats at 37%.
Internal stigma is also quite high with more than a half of the PLHIV having low self-esteem and blaming themselves for being affected by HIV. Internal stigma is where one has negative feelings based on their HIV positive status.
The report is set to be launched today (Tuesday) by the minister of health Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, at Hotel African. It is the first ever Stigma Index survey conducted among people living with HIV in Uganda.
The Uganda findings are consistent with findings from other African countries that have recently rolled out the people living with HIV (PLHIV) Stigma Index.
The National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU), an umbrella organization for PLHIV networks in Uganda, funded by UNAIDS, conducted the survey in 18 districts.
The districts included; Arua, Maracha, Lira, Ngora, Soroti, Bududa, Mbale, Mayuge, Kamuli, Masaka and greater Kampala. Others are Kayunga, Mityana, Ntungamo, Isingiro, Kabarole, Masindi and Wakiso.
The report states that if Internal stigma and external stigma are not addressed, it will affect the realization of the UNAIDS Strategy 2011-2015 of Getting to Zero, which calls for “zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.
The stigma report comes in the background of reports that in Uganda, prevalence of HIV has ranged between 6-7% in the general population for the past 10 years. However, recent reports have indicated that the epidemic up surged.
Stella Kentusi, Executive director, NAFOPHANU, said PLHIV often face stigma and discrimination, yet many don’t know what their rights are and how they can help to change things for better. She regrets that 30 years later, stigma and discrimination would continue to be major problems, even in an era where treatment for HIV is more accessible, and prevention of HIV is not only more and more possible, it is critical.
In East Africa, Uganda is the second country to carry out stigma survey after Kenya. Other countries include Malawi, Ethiopia, Thailand, South Africa, and Libya. Uganda results have been compared with the situation of PHAs across different countries.
“If we don’t appreciate the nature and impact of stigma, none of our interventions can begin to be successful. Stigma and discrimination are “road blocks” to universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. AIDS is probably the most stigmatized disease in history,” Kentusi said.
She explained that the stigma index was developed and implemented by, with and for PLHIV, and it is hoped that it will foster change within the communities as it is being used, as well as being a tool to advocate for the broader changes needed according to the index data.
“Ultimately, it is hoped that the index will be a powerful advocacy tool that acts to support the collective goal of governments, community-based organizations, activists and PHAs alike to reduce the stigma and discrimination linked to HIV,” she says.