We won't win the fight if we don't overcome stigmatisation!
I had an interview once with an HIV positive lady and this is her story. She was diagnosed when she was had an attack of hepizostas. Thinking it was witchcraft, she went to a traditional doctor hoping to get solace there. But after two weeks of treatment with no improvement, she went to hospital and her test came back positive.
She said she was demoralized instantly because she thought of her friends and family and all the questions she would have to answer. She said she stopped going out because she did not want to answer people who said she had lost weight and looked sick. After being put on antiretroviral treatment, she said she picked up and felt more confident. She put on weight and began to have a social life once more.
When she decided to date again, she met an old childhood friend who wanted to be more than friends. So she invited him over to her house and cooked dinner. She said she wrestled with herself whether to tell him the truth or not and finally decided to because she thought he was educated and would act mature. She was wrong. When she told him the truth, his attitude towards her changed immediately. He became cold and even refused to eat her food. He left the next day after sleeping in the guest room and never ever called her again. This lady said before this incident they had maintained some kind of cordial relationship. After that everything changed.
She ended by saying that she would probably think twice before telling anybody her status again.
This story is just a summary of how aobut 80% of Cameroonians react to HIV and AIDS. Stigmatization is still very much alive. So people keep their status to themselves and are forced to hide. This means they can not be seen taking their drugs in public and sometimes they forget to because they are hiding.
Some date people who refuse to use condoms during sexual intercourse and because of fear of stigmatization, they refuse to say anything. Granted, this is a terrible thing to do but on the other hand can you really blame them for staying quiet especially if they know that their lives would probably turn upside down if they utter a word.
The worst of it is nurses and medical staff who point people in the streets saying ‘she is HIV positive,’ or ‘he was tested positive two months ago.’ This is the way word gets that someone is HIV positive, hence stigma.
Many of us don’t realize that the fight against HIV will hardly ever be won if we do not overcome stigmatization.