A recent study, led by Dr. Rashida Ferrand of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK, suggests that a stigma attached to HIV infection may beiscouraging HIV testing in low- and middle-income countries.
According to AVERT, HIV- and AIDS-related stigma stems from the fact that HIV infection is associated with certain behaviors – such as homosexuality, prostitution and drug addiction – that are already frowned upon in many societies. Many religious or moral beliefs also cause some individuals to believe that HIV infection is a result of moral negligence and that the infected person should be punished.
From the study, Dr. Ferrand and his team found that of 2,831 children eligible for HIV testing, 75 percent were offered it and 54 percent consented. However, they discovered that one of the main reasons health care workers did not offer testing to the children was that they felt the child’s caregiver would not consent on behalf of the child, as it could blemish the reputation of the child or family.
“The fear of the stigma faced by the child and their family seems to be discouraging caregivers from testing children for HIV,” says Dr. Ferrand.
“However, with improved clarity of guidelines, engagement with staff and organizational adjustments within clinics, it should be possible to harness the commitment of health care workers and properly implement HIV testing and counseling.”
But it is not only individuals in developing countries who are affected by stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS. The infection is stigmatized globally, and many health care professionals believe it is stopping people from receiving treatment.
Although an issue such as stigma is difficult to tackle on a global scale, it is something that is being addressed in the fight against HIV.
Many individuals believe it comes down to the issue of education, not just about the infection itself but about the laws and policies that may protect an HIV-infected individual from being discriminated against.
AVERT explain that many people living with HIV are un-aware of their rights in society. Therefore they need to be educated in how to challenge any .
“We can fight stigma,” said Ki-Moon. “Enlightened laws and policies are key. But it begins with openness, the courage to speak out. Schools should teach respect and understanding. Religious leaders should preach tolerance. The media should condemn prejudice and use its influence to advance social change, from securing legal protections to ensuring access to health care.”
But of course, tackling the stigma associated with HIV relies on changing people’s attitudes about the condition – something of a challenge. But Ki-Moon remains positive that it can be done.
“Above all,” he said, “we must recognize that those who bear the stigma of HIV should not be those who live with the disease. It is those who allow it.”
For more information on HIV and AIDS visit AVERT or AIDS.gov.