By Nakilima Saidah
Aids related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes, and mal treatment directed towards people living with HIV/Aids.
HIV related stigma in the Ugandan context can be traced back to a series of shared beliefs that being HIV positive is the consequence of some kind of indecent sexual behavior, religious punishment and lack of adherence to cultural norms. People living with HIV are often rejected, abandoned or abused and considered socially dead.
The consequences of stigma are wide ranging from being shunned by family, peers and the community at large, poor treatment in the health care and education settings, an erosion of rights, psychological damage and this at the end poses a negative effect on the success of HIV testing and treatment.
Consequently the fear of being stigmatized has caused a barrier to HIV testing, disclosure of status and willingness to get treatment. It enhances secrecy and denial which are catalysts to further HIV transmission and many positive women have ended up having un-protected sex with different men without revealing their status to such men due to the fear of being stigmatized and rejected as the case has always been in Uganda and the rest of Africa.
Communities are often less tolerant of women living with HIV/Aids than their male counterparts because women are considered to be promiscuous, dirty, irresponsible or bewitched. Women with HIV thus experience a double stigma since they are naturally regarded as an inferior sex to that of the male and this has led to a greater social disadvantage on part of the women in Uganda.
Due to the patriarchal settings in most of the Ugandan communities, many women have no say on issues regarding sex in their marriages and men regard them as “sex machines” whom they can sleep with at any time regardless of their will, they cannot advice their husbands to go for blood checkups since this may lead to serious beatings from their husbands. Additionally women are frequently labelled as main transmitters of the disease because majority get their first HIV test at health facilities during antenatal care, hence learning of the epidemic in the family before the men.
Inequalities in health are rooted majorly in social and political stratification and the nature of social power relations. The promotion of health equity is not so much about equalizing health outcomes but rather, a rights based approach should be advocated for, where the underlying social conditions affecting health are improved by addressing the actual and potential disadvantages that lead to risks and vulnerabilities amongst HIV/AIDS women , this can be achieved by empowering women and sensitizing them about their health rights such that they can boldly stand and fight for their rights and also criticize all those who stigmatize them.