Stigma and discrimination are factors that stop many people from owning up to their HIV status and also stop them from availing themselves for testing and accessing treatment and care. Mr Dennis Otabo, the Coordinator of the Civil Society for HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (CISHAN), Rivers chapter, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Port Harcourt, on the occasion of this year’s World AIDS Day, annually celebrated on Dec. 1 to raise awareness on the scourge and to remember those who died of the condition.
He told NAN that “the issue of discrimination and stigma is still very high due to our cultural system, myths and beliefs regarding the condition. “HIV is still perceived as a death sentence and there are people who still believe that the condition is acquired mainly by those who engage in immoral acts, not knowing that there are many other ways of contracting it.” According to him, the effect of stigma and discrimination has made some positive people to leave their areas of residence to other states to access Anti-RetroViral (ARV) medication.
He added that the fear of the unknown prevented many people from going for test, noting that stigma manifest at various levels, ranging from individual, family, community and institutions. He disclosed that stigmatisation in the communities were exhibited in the form of social isolation and name calling, while the family form of discrimination range from restriction to family events and the individual being treated like an outcast.
He said that some positive individuals also stigmatise themselves, blaming selves for contracting the virus, and called for increased awareness, especially among adolescents and youths. Otabo explained that “Rivers has many HIV/ AIDS clubs in secondary schools to enlighten students about the dreaded virus and to do away with inaccurate information and misconceptions about it.” The aim of such clubs is to create adequate sensitisation, especially adolescents, and to mitigate the issue of stigma to the barest minimum.
He stressed the need for HIV Information Education and Communication (IEC) materials to be used in educating different target groups such as the adolescents, pregnant women and the public on ways to prevent, care and manage HIV/AIDS.
The CISHAN coordinator said that the materials were meant to be readily available both in the hard and soft copy format, noting that UNICEF and other foreign partners were turning attention to the younger ones. According to him if people aren’t stigmatised, they will be willing to disclose their status and access healthcare in their environment and more persons will ascertain their status.
He said it was imperative that government enforced the HIV/AIDS Anti- Discrimination Act of 2014, pointing out that zero discrimination would enable people to be open about their status and be willing to access healthcare. Mrs Peace Sokari, the Coordinator, Association of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ASHWAN), Rivers chapter, also buttressed the point that there was a lot of stigma around people living with the virus. She said “there is need for more awareness on HIV/AIDS as it isn’t a killer disease and a death sentence; a lot of people living with HIV are doing well and living normal lives.”