World Aids Day – End Stigma

Boitumelo Maswabi

According to UNICEF, “Botswana is ranked among the top four countries in the world most affected by HIV and AIDS behind South Africa, eSwatini and Lesotho.”

It is also reported that, “Among the 370,000 estimated people living with HIV in Botswana in 2018, 29,500 were young people aged 15-24, the majority of them female (64 per cent). Of greater concern, three in every ten new HIV infections in Botswana in 2018 occurred among adolescents and young people aged 15 – 24 years.”

It has been 33 years since the World Health Organisation pronounced December 1st World Aids Day. And one would think that with all the funds allocated to public awareness campaigns, HIV stigma and discrimination would have disappeared by now.

However, in September, the country was reminded of the persistent stigma when a mother disclosed her late celebrity son’s HIV/AIDS status during his memorial service, which many viewed as outrageous, subsequently igniting the conversation around stigma and discrimination.

As the world commemorates World Aids Day, Voice Woman visited the main institution of learning – the University of Botswana – to find out from young women, why they think the HIV stigma holds to this day, even among younger people. Does GenZ, Zoomers, or Ma2thou as they’re commonly referred to locally, also consider HIV and AIDS a “killer disease.”

Yolanda, 17, 1st year Economics – Gaborone
I think HIV-related stigma persists largely because of its association with unacceptable behavioral issues; people lack self-control. Many young people live recklessly – a life of partying, drugs and alcohol, and I think because our country has had some success managing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, people throw caution to the wind and assume that chances of contracting the virus are very low. We cannot say that Batswana aren’t sufficiently educated; it has been an ongoing problem in Botswana for decades.
Our parents lived through the worst period of the diseases, and so did their parents before them. For example, my mom lost her own mom to HIV. I only learnt of that recently, mom was only 15 when gran passed so there’s never really been an open discussion on this. I imagine the stigma is mostly a result of self-condemnation; it must be extremely unsettling and devastating to discover you’re HIV positive in a society that associates HIV with shame.

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Gofaone, 20, Majoring in Mathematics – Mmadinare
I think the awareness campaigns around HIV/AIDS are to blame for the persistent stigma; they are the ones fuelling the fear. Instead of helping the situation, they are doing the exact opposite. Batswana need to be taught that there are diseases that are more deadly than HIV. I’ve observed that in America, for instance, genital herpes is feared more than AIDS yet it exists there too.
I am anxious about contracting HIV, to be honest. I would never disclose my HIV status if I contracted it because of fear of discrimination. On the other hand, the occasional educational campaigns, especially here on campus, are helpful because now I know my status. I just started dating, though not sexually active. I will definitely have this conversation with my boyfriend after this.

Catherine, 20, Maths Major – Tsetsebjwe
I believe the manner in which society views HIV and the fact government focuses too much attention on it despite the existence of other chronic or incurable illnesses like cancer is the reason why the social stigma has remained. I think attention should shift towards the reality that one can actually live a healthy and long life with HIV.
People should look on the brighter side and instead promote the importance of healthy living. Just as there is HIV self-testing, I feel treatment should also be given to people in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Most people are particular about issues of confidentiality.
Some people are apprehensive about queuing up at health facilities for anti-retroviral treatment (ART) hence some end up defaulting and it also becomes an impediment to those looking to access treatment. I last tested in July; I do that every three months and because I have a boyfriend, we both test.

Anonymous, 18, 1st Year BSc
In my observation, the stigma is here to stay though it has decreased over the years, well, at least with regards to my generation.
I feel because the older generation got to experience the real horror of the disease in the beginning, they are scarred; it has left lasting trauma. I know my status. Getting tested should not be difficult; it’s not that big of a deal! Knowing your status is the best thing you can do for yourself and the people around you.

Anonymous, 18, 1st Year Maths and Finance
I learnt that in the olden days you couldn’t share a spoon with an HIV sufferer or wash their clothes, but thanks to educational campaigns the stigma is reduced. I don’t know my status. I have never found a reason to test I guess but I do advise my peers to know their status.

Key facts

•    HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed 36.3 million [27.2–47.8 million] lives so far.

•    There is no cure for HIV infection. However, with increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection
has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.

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•    There were an estimated 37.7 million [30.2–45.1 million] people living with HIV at the end of 2020, over two thirds of whom (25.4 million) are in the WHO African Region.

•    In 2020, 680 000 [480 000–1.0 million] people died from HIV-related causes and 1.5 million [1.0–2.0 million] people acquired HIV.

•    To reach the new proposed global 95–95–95 targets set by UNAIDS, we will need to redouble our efforts to avoid the worst-case scenario of 7.7 million HIV-related deaths over the next 10 years, increasing HIV infections due to HIV service disruptions during COVID-19, and the slowing public health response to HIV.

[Source: WHO]

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