'Stigma hinders fight against HIV'

MUTARE - An organisation involved in the fight against HIV and Aids has said stigma, discrimination and the country’s bad laws are hindering efforts to end the epidemic.

Speaking at an HIV and Aids awareness campaign, Southern Africa Aids Information and Dissemination Service (Safaids) training and advocacy programme coordinator Adolf Mavheneke said in order for the country to effectively fight the epidemic, it has to first deal with stigma and discrimination issues.

The awareness campaign, held at Murambinda Growth Point, was hosted with the assistance of the Zimbabwe National Network for People living with HIV (ZNNP+), National Aids Council (NAC) and the Health ministry.

“HIV and Aids stigma is still a reality. It’s still shockingly rampant and we cannot stop HIV and Aids unless we end stigma. It’s keeping most people away from accessing services.

“HIV can only be stopped if people feel free to access services without being labelled as is the case presently,” Mavheneke said.

He further said stigma and discrimination are a violation of people’s constitutional rights as provided for in Section 56 of the Constitution.

The Safaids official said a recent study by ZNNP+ revealed shocking information that some people still kept kitchen utensils used by people living with HIV and Aids separately for fear of contracting the virus.

ZNNP+ communications and advocacy officer Edmore Mutimodyo said 65 percent of people contacted in the study done in 32 districts are experiencing stigma and discrimination with 31,2 percent being verbally insulted, 21 percent suffering social exclusion, 19 percent experiencing physical abuse, the other 15 percent enduring discrimination from partners, while 13,1 percent were denied accommodation, 12,1 percent denied work opportunities and 10,6 percent were also excluded from religious activities.

Mutimodyo said churches, families, schools and workplaces were the worst places for people living with HIV and Aids.

Health ministry district health promotion officer for Buhera Innocent Chamusingarevi said stigma and discrimination is accompanied by psychological distress which affects drug efficacy.

Chamusingarevi said drugs worked best when the immune system is not being run down by stress.

“Stigma and accompanying stress will affect the effectiveness of the drugs so let us help all accept this disease and support each other because no one is immune from contracting the disease” Chamusingarevi said.

He said his office had to intervene in cases when children had stopped taking their drugs in the face of sustained harassment over their status.

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