Most of us know something about HIV/AIDs, condoms, abstinence, and anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs).
Most of us personally know people affected and living positively with the disease. And yet, there are many who still (overtly or secretly) continue to stigmatize those who are HIV positive.
This must stop, it ruins lives and it keeps many people from getting tested, knowing their status and beginning treatment.
Stigmatizing HIV/AIDS patients lends to the spread of the disease as those who do not know their status (because they fear being tested) proceed with unprotected sexual relations and those who know they are positive, live in denial.
While many people talk a good game about being tolerant, understanding and sensitive, discrimination lurks in their hearts.
Avoiding people with the disease, refusing to hire them, shunning families HIV positive people or those who have died of AIDS related illnesses, still happens in Namibia.
We all know this, but many still pretend it isn’t so. We need to speak out against HIV/AIDS stigmatization, insensitive actions or ignorant beliefs that cause so much pain.
Stigma and discrimination are among the foremost barriers to HIV prevention, treatment and care.
People don’t want to be seen with ‘those people’ who are affected and ill. Their ‘friends’ don’t want to go around with them, and finding meaningful love relationships is impossible once someone’s status becomes well known.
We still have families kicking their relatives out of the house because a person is HIV positive.
People in the community are still labeling others by saying things like, “She deserved it” or “He is not holy” or “He is unclean.” Comments such as, “people living with HIV are bewitched” are all contributing factors to the stigmatization.
This is a tragedy and the steady efforts by government, churches, schools and the private sector to battle these stigmas, must be re-doubled.
More must be done to educate people at the grassroots level about how the disease is transmitted and what the disease is. Local people who do have knowledge, need to help their neighbours understand HIV/AIDS.
Churches, instead of preaching about biblical blame and fear surrounding HIV/AIDS, must use the pulpit to encourage testing, acceptance, treatment and support. Those who are infected and affected shouldn’t be cast out of the church, those who stigmatize them should be!
At the same time, people living with HIV should know their rights. They are entitled to the same rights under the constitution of Namibia as any other citizen and they must go to court if necessary, to demand their just due.
When hospitals and clinics are reckless with their confidential medical records, these healthcare workers and facilities must be sued!
When more people take action to protect their rights, things will change for everyone else. There must be a zero tolerance for negative attitudes and actions towards people living with HIV.
Communities must STOP gossiping about who was in line at the local clinic to pick up ARVs. Those listening to such gossip must tell the person involved that they are wrong to say such things.
Doctors, nurses, care-givers, cleaners and kitchen workers in medical facilities must be fired when they talk casually about who received what medicine.
Namibians should know that HIV is no longer an immediate death sentence. But, there are lifestyle changes that must immediately become a part of that person’s life forever.
Families living with someone who is HIV positive must change a few of their habits as well to support the infected person. After that, life can go on easily in a living space that is safe and sensitive.
Many people living quietly with HIV are also suffering from self-hatred and low self-esteem. They believe the stigmatizing, ignorant comments.
This can lead to depression, alcohol and drug abuse and the loss of dignity. Some suicide notes left behind cite HIV/AIDS infections as the reason that someone took their own life.
We can do more to help people know that life is worth living whether they are HIV positive, they have cancer, TB, HEP E or any other disease.
Namibians, let us share what we have learned about HIV and challenge stigma and discrimination.