STIGMA and discrimination hamper effective HIV programming and is a violation of human rights which must not go unchallenged, according to the Strategic Intervention Adviser for United Nations programme on AIDS/ HIV (UNAIDS) in Tanzania, Ms Kate Spring.
Speaking during the Zero Discrimination Day Commemorations in Dar es Salaam this week, Ms Spring said everyone can be part of the transformation and stand up for fair, equal and just societies.
She says every week more than 300 adolescent girls and young women between 15 and 24 years are infected with HIV “On Zero Discrimination Day we celebrate the right of everyone to live a full and productive life—and live it with dignity.
Zero Discrimination Day is about creating a global movement of solidarity in order to end all forms of discrimination, whether relating to HIV or not,” she said.
This year, UNAIDS together with the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS), National Council of People Living with HIV (NACOPHA), among other partners, are putting a spotlight on discrimination against women and girls.
Discrimination and gender inequality remains a huge barrier for women and girls in all aspects of their lives and have a significant impact on the AIDS response. Women and girls across the world experience violence and discrimination based on their gender – both of which can be causes of and at the same time make them more vulnerable to HIV.
According to Ms Spring, this year is an important year for women and girls, with several global events being planned, including the Beijing+25 Conference, the Commission on the Status of Women and the UN General Assembly high-level session.
UNAIDS and partners are contributing to mobilise around this agenda starting on Zero Discrimination Day and continuing throughout the year. The struggle to beat AIDS is inseparable from the struggle for women’s rights and from the struggle against all forms of discrimination.
AIDS can be beaten, but it will only be beaten if stakeholders address the social and economic injustices that fuels it and respond to the real needs of women and girls and people living with and vulnerable to HIV.
“In Tanzania, we are still facing gender inequality when it comes to HIV and AIDS, hence, UNAIDS is inviting all our partners and stakeholders to join us in this and in achieving the three zeros: Zero new HIV-infec tions, Zero AIDS-related deaths and Zero discrimination,” Ms Spring said.
Gracing the event, Deputy Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, responsible for the disabled, Ms Stella Ikupa urged people living with HIV/AIDS to avoid self-discrimination, one of the steps to fight stigmatization in the whole society.
She also urged them to adhere to proper ARVs uses so as to suppress the disease viruses, and at the same time embracing behavior change spirit in the name of avoiding new HIV transmissions.
“The government and other stakeholders have been coming with various approaches, including regular public campaigns to fight against discrimination and stigma. It also makes sure that ARVs are freely available everywhere and at any time. Previous presenters here have told us that stigmatization is at high level especially in rural areas, hence, I do propose for non-stop regular outreach programmes so that every HIV infected person can be easily reached” she said.
She further said that people with various special needs, mostly the blind and deaf, do need to have proper HIV information, and the right time, urging for stakeholders to consider availability of Braille-written documents as well as interpreters when visiting such groups of people.
TACAIDS Director of Advocacy and Information, Mr Jumanne Isango, said that one of the commission’s findings in 2016/17 showed that 31 percent of 100 respondents showed stigmatization perception in rural areas, and 17 percent (of 100 respondents) in urban areas.
He stressed that the situation was especially worse in rural areas as researchers observed that some people were reluctant even to have services offered by people living with HIV, in fear of getting infected, said Mr Isango.
It was further noted that some people in rural areas feared even to buy the daily basic needs like vegetables, believing that touching whatever has been touched by a person living with HIV/Aids might lead to transmissions.
“The big deal here is to intensify regular public education, given the fact that women and children are among the majority of seriously affected group. The government in collaboration with various stakeholders has been doing whatever possible to achieve such a goal, hence, scoring zero discrimination by 2030 as per the global determination,” he said.
NACOPHA Chairperson, Ms Leticia Maurice, said that in order to achieve such a goal (zero discrimination) in the targeted time-frame, there is a need of strong political will.
There is also a need for the government to collaborate with religious leaders on educating the mass over the importance of fighting against stigmatisation in the society, as they (leaders) are on best chance to meet with the mass on regular basis during their services of worshiping or any other related activities.
She added that if uncontrolled, stigmatisation can affect individuals and nation’s economy when people living with HIV/AIDS are refraining from intermingling with others in production activities.
“Stigma is a more serious threat than HIV itself. It is because stigma kills the soul while ARV kills HIV virus. We, people living with HIV have been nicknamed several names, but nothing pains me a lot like when a person calls me an ‘HIV victim’,” lamented the NACOPHA boss while calling for intensification of the war against stigma.