Two new studies show that HIV-related stigma is not going away in African countries.
Stigma involves negative attitudes to HIV and people living with HIV. One dictionary defines stigma as “the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable.” Stigma can make it hard for people to disclose their HIV status to others. While stigmatising attitudes are often expressed by people who don’t have HIV, it can also affect the feelings that people living with HIV have about themselves – some people have felt guilty or ashamed because of having HIV. Researchers sometimes call this “internalised-stigma” or “self-stigma”.
Many people hope that as HIV treatment becomes more widely available, people’s fear of HIV might decrease. But a study from rural Uganda, conducted between 2006 and 2012, is not encouraging on this point. Annual surveys with people living with HIV showed that concerns about disclosing HIV status and measures of internalised stigma had increased during this time. And surveys done with the general population showed that an increasing number of people said they would expect people living with HIV to experience stigma when disclosing their HIV status.
The second study was conducted with nearly 40,000 schoolchildren, aged 12 to 14 years, in nine southern African countries in 2007. In four countries, one-in-five children said that they would “avoid or shun” a friend who revealed that they had HIV. In three countries, over a third of students believed that children living with HIV should not be allowed to continue to attend school.
Children from poorer families and children living in rural areas were more likely to have stigmatising attitudes.
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