More effort needed to fight discrimination - Activists

Mar 02, 2020

Discrimination still affects many people in different environments, from schools to workplaces and hospitals, yet it is everyone’s right to live a full life with dignity regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality and ethnicity.


Gloria Nawanyaga says being discriminated for living with HIV is much worse than the disease itself.

"I have suffered discrimination and I know that it can be more lethal than the virus. After both my parents succumbed to AIDS, my guardians could not stand me because I am HIV-positive," Nawanyaga, 22, says. "They told me in my face that I was going to infect them with my virus, and I have to live with a Good Samaritan."

Nawanyaga now believes the struggle against the epidemic will never succeed without addressing discrimination. She says the discrimination and stigma that she Experienced gave her the zeal to prove to all those people who distanced themselves from her because of her status that she can do what they do and can even do it better. Nawanyaga is currently pursuing a Bachelors's degree in law at Uganda Christian University.

Nawanyaga was differentiated based on her HIV status, whereas many other people are discriminated against on the grounds of gender identity, age, sexual orientation, race, ethnic origin, language, religion, beliefs, geographical location or migrant status.

Today is Zero Discrimination Day, and Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate the day, which is globally celebrated on March 1st of every year. This year's theme is, "A society free of discrimination."

The day aims to raise awareness and combat all forms of discrimination, in particular, to fight for fair and equal treatment of people living with HIV and AIDS, though it doesn't confine itself to health-related themes. World Health Organotin (WHO) defines discrimination as the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people.

The day aims to combat all forms of discrimination. In particular, this involves the organization of UNAIDS and their fight for fair and equal treatment of people suffering from HIV and AIDS. 

According to The United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), worldwide almost 40 million people live with the so-called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

UNAIDS pursues the goal of individual countries and their use in the fight against AIDS to support and coordinate their activities, and on Zero Discrimination Day worldwide actions take place to raise awareness.

Uganda Network On Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) cites an article that appeared in a local newspaper quoting a commissioner from  Ministry of Education, suggesting passing a circular to test all cooks for children in schools fearing that children are not safe because some people who cook food for them are sick.

Without specifying the type of test, the article suggests that the cooks should be tested every six months. According to Dora Kiconco Musinguzi, executive director, UGANET, that is institutional discrimination at a high level of government.

"That is discriminatory. Although the article didn't name the type of test, we know that the issue they are talking about is HIV. Because we believe that people fear HIV they are going to cause cooks to be mandatorily tested, that is wrong information you cannot get the disease through food," she says.

Musinguzi notes there is also institutional discrimination of people who go to work abroad since many agencies that are employing people going to work cannot allow you to go if you are HIV positive, whereas other people suffering from other illnesses are free/allowed.

"We have asked the ministry of gender why it is like this, why they allow other people to go and work but not an HIV positive person. But the ministry said that those are their (agencies) terms! We just wonder why they allow such terms which are discriminatory instead of fighting back," she says.

Musinguzi says discrimination can be in different forms, like people who are denied work because of their HIV status. Other forms include harassment—inappropriate jokes, insults, name-calling or displays such as a poster or cartoons directed at a person because of their HIV status, etc.

The discrimination that these people face is often, in essence, the way the general community views and values them, it comes from their peers, family members, neighbors and health service providers. 

There are a variety of different causes, including ignorance about other people, cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, lack of empathy for those who may be different from oneself, fear of the unknown and those who are different, and feelings of helplessness and scapegoating others for that feeling.

Activists say many countries have laws against discrimination but it is still a problem in all layers of society in every country in the world. Many countries have and still use discrimination as a way of governing.

Discrimination still affects many people in different environments, from schools to workplaces and hospitals, yet it is everyone's right to live a full life with dignity regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, skin colour, height, weight, profession, education, and beliefs.
Effects of discrimination.
Experts say discrimination affects especially people living with HIV by adding to the stress they already experience, making it more difficult for them to access HIV treatment and care while at the same time preventing various HIV programs to be offered in a variety of settings.

"Stigma and discrimination remain the single most important barrier to public action, the main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so," Positive Men's Union (POMU) coordinator, Richard Sserunkuuma, says.

He adds, "It makes AIDS the silent killer because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Discrimination is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world."

He stresses discrimination is a barrier to accessing health and community services and prevents the attainment of universal health coverage. It leads to poor health outcomes and hampers the progress and efforts we have made to end the AIDS epidemic and achieve healthy lives for all.

"Discrimination is a violation of human rights. It is illegal, immoral and dehumanizing. To overcome discrimination and the associated challenges we need leadership at the individual, societal and political levels," says Musinguzi.

What does it feel to be discriminated against?   
Peace Baguma, a victim of discrimination, and who has lived with the virus for 25 years, said she was discriminated by her relatives when they leant she was infected, to the extent of throwing away all the utensils she was using.

"They called me a "living dead," saying anytime I was going to kick the bucket. But today 25 years down the road, I am still kicking and preaching the messages of HIV and AIDS and discrimination," she says.

 Stella Kentusi, ED NAFOPHANU regretted that it is tragic that over 30 years later, stigma and discrimination would continue to be major problems, even in an era where treatment for HIV is more and more accessible, and prevention of HIV is not only more and more possible, it is critical.

"Living with  HIV/ Aids does not mean that you don't have rights to good health, respect, and dignity. We all matter in this world," Joanita Kawalya

"People living with HIV/ Aids should be given a chance to work and exploit their abilities or be given a certificate that can clearly confirm that they are incapable of performing their duties.



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