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'We must join the fight against HIV stigma'

PICTURED: The dome of St Paul's Cathedral lit up in red to mark World Aids Day in London, 2010

FOR PEOPLE diagnosed as HIV-positive, no area of their life remains untouched by the stigma associated with this disease.

Whether it is education, housing, employment, insurance or medical service providers, HIV positive people are discriminated by almost everyone.

Discrimination is said to have occurred when a person diagnosed as HIV positive is not treated in the same manner as a person diagnosed as HIV negative either at the work place, hospital, religious places, social gatherings or rather any other place.

Whether it is deliberate or not, the fact is that discrimination on the basis of a person’s HIV status is not acceptable.

As we mark World Aids Day, late-stage HIV diagnosis among black Africans remains at an all time high. This is a tragedy and one that our community must unite to stop.

The isolation and stigma felt by black Africans living with HIV in the UK is what contributes largely to them being diagnosed later than the general UK population.

And as our article in this edition marking World Aids Day points out, the challenges facing black women living with HIV are particularly tough. Stigma, denial and ignorance cause people to delay or refuse the testing process. They are afraid of being abandoned by family members, losing their jobs and their homes.

As a result of this, many don’t get tested and fail to get treated.
As a community we need to show compassion rather than harsh judgemental attitudes. This will assist tremendously in combatting this epidemic.

Often these harsh attitudes stem from the beliefs that the person with HIV must somehow be living some type of immoral lifestyle.
The fact is anyone who is sexually active can contract HIV. This only reinforces that we need to educate our communities in order to effectively prevent and deal with HIV and Aids.

Dismantling these culturally defined attitudes will take time, but the effort will be worth it. It is time to get real about HIV in our community and what we can do to prevent, accept and bring awareness to help those who are struggling in isolation.

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