NEW GLOBAL CAMPAIGN TO END HIV STIGMA
Zero HIV Stigma Day, is spearheading a movement which reinforces and amplifies the HIV pandemic and related inequalities. While occasions such as World AIDS Day bring needed awareness to HIV in general, there has never been a global awareness day specifically to challenge the impact of stigma, which persists despite biomedical advancements in HIV prevention and care. Zero HIV Stigma Day is a joint initiative of NAZ and the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC), in collaboration with the Global HIV Collaborative and Fast-Track Cities Institute. HIV stigma refers to irrational or negative attitudes, behaviors, and judgments towards people living with or at risk of HIV. This observance is also in honor of Prudence Mabele, the first Black South African woman to publicly share her HIV status.
This year’s theme, “Human First,” emphasizes the human dimension of people living with and affected by HIV and reinforces that any form of stigma encountered by people living with HIV is a human rights violation. The theme also recognizes the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Given persistent levels of HIV stigma experienced in health and other settings, IAPAC and partners launched a new global awareness day focused on ending HIV stigma in all its forms. We can only succeed in our efforts to end the global HIV pandemic if we end the gross violation of human rights that stigma represents for people living with and affected by HIV,” said José M. Zuniga, PhD, MPH, President/CEO of IAPAC and the Fast-Track Cities Institute.
HIV-related stigma experienced in healthcare settings is widespread, impeding the ability of people living with and affected by HIV to access and use health services. According to UNAIDS, people living with HIV who perceive high levels of HIV-related stigma are 2.4 times more likely to delay enrolment in care until they are very ill. However, beyond the healthcare sector, HIV-related stigma is found in every area of social life – families and communities as well as educational and workplace settings, and within the justice system.
Zero HIV Stigma Day was first announced in 2022 by a consortium of multisector organizations, including IAPAC, (a global network of clinicians and allied health professionals) and NAZ (a UK-based sexual health charity), in collaboration with the Global HIV Collaborative and Fast-Track Cities Institute. Endorsing organizations include the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
July 21st was chosen to honour Prudence Nobantu Mabele (July 21, 1971 – July 21, 2017), the first woman in South Africa to disclose her HIV status in 1992. She was an activist who set a precedent for all people living with HIV to disclose and discuss their status with loved ones without shame, to seek treatment and care, and to lead happy and fulfilled lives.
“The only thing preventing us from ending all new HIV transmissions by 2030 is stigma. Normalizing HIV, delivering high quality sex and relationships education to young people, and promoting holistic care and support in bold and intentional ways is our collective responsibility. Countless activists like Prudence Mabele have shown us the power of collective voice, courage, and action to tackle HIV stigma. As we approach the first Zero HIV Stigma Day, let’s celebrate Prudence’s story as the legacy it should be,” said Parminder Sekhon, NAZ’s Chief Executive Officer.
In addition to launching a campaign brand and toolkit with social media and other creative assets, IAPAC will premiere a short documentary at 10 am ET, July 21, 2023, via the IAPAC YouTube channel, which will be housed after the premiere on the Zero HIV Stigma Day website. Human First will share lived experiences with stigma from six individuals who are either living with or affected by HIV in three countries (South Africa, United Kingdom, United States). Made possible through core funding support from ViiV Healthcare, the documentary will also feature innovative approaches to mitigate HIV stigma.
Discrimination harmful, perpetuates inequality
To address inequalities associated with Stigma and discrimination, we now have the Global AIDS Strategy (2021-2026) End Inequalities, End AIDS. The strategy uses an inequalities lens to close the gaps preventing progress to end AIDS. It further sets out bold new targets and polices to be reached by 2025 to propel new energy and commitment to ending AIDS. The strategy’s ambitious vision is for ending gender inequalities and realizing human rights, including the right to health, calling upon all partners and stakeholders in the HIV response in every country to transform unequal gender norms and end stigma and discrimination. In addition, the strategy is based on human rights, gender equality and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination for all people living with and affected by HIV, and is the result of extensive analysis of HIV data and an inclusive process of consultation with countries, communities and partners. The strategy puts people at the centre and aims to unite all countries, communities and partners across and beyond the HIV response, to take prioritized action to transform health and life outcomes for people living with and affected by HIV.
Let us be considerate when talking about HIV to avoid stigma
The words we use matter. Let us keep in mind that when talking about HIV, certain words and language may have a negative meaning for people at high risk for HIV or those who have HIV. We can do our part to stop HIV stigma by being intentional and thoughtful when choosing our words, and choosing to use supportive—rather than stigmatizing— language when talking about HIV. The first step is talking openly about it and addressing stigma head on. It is important to speak up and take action when you witness others behaving in ways that are stigmatizing. But it can be hard to know what to say or do. Many of us struggle with how best to address HIV stigma and discrimination when we experience it.
Eswatini Committed to end stigma and discrimination
The Kingdom of Eswatini has united in the global action to reduce stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS through the creation of a supportive stigma reduction framework to inform implementation of the HIV and AIDS policy, advocacy and programming. The overall objective is to determine manifestations of stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against PLHIV in the Kingdom of Eswatini. The most common indicators of stigma and discrimination include rejection, isolation, moral judgments, self-exclusion and human rights violations. HIV related stigma and discrimination hinders access to prevention, treatment, care and support services. Among people living with HIV, stigma and discrimination contributes to late disclosure of HIV status and initiation on treatment as well as adherence to treatment.
The HIV stigma index report, 2019 presents a picture of the current situation in terms of stigma and discrimination among people living with HIV in the Kingdom. The most common reported stigma and discrimination was being targets of discriminatory remarks by other people and being verbally harassed. People Living with HIV (PLHIV) mentioned that discriminatory remarks are through different phrases which portray PLHIV as being promiscuous, sick and unproductive. Despite, this derogatory remarks against them, PLHIV have developed internal resilience and the survey depicts that HIV related stigma and discrimination is experienced by fewer people. However, discriminatory attitudes and prejudice against PLHIV exist in communities and manifests through gossip during social gatherings. Disclosure of HIV status is difficult for PLHIV. This therefore presents the need for PLHIV, and HIV and AIDS programme implementors to plan, educate, raise awareness and implement HIV stigma sensitive programmes.