Stigma hampering fight against HIV epidemic in Uganda

Last Updated on: 6th September 2022, 01:27 pm

HIV infection rates among children, teenagers, and young people are unusually high.


By Patrick Odongo Lango

Oyam, Sept. 5, 2022: The Uganda AIDS Commission recently published a report on the current state of the HIV and AIDS response at the national level in Uganda.

According to the report’s findings, the country is well on its way to meeting, if not exceeding, UNAIDS’s goal of controlling the HIV epidemic by 2030. 

This incredible achievement was made possible by the efforts of ordinary Ugandans from all walks of life. The people of Uganda responded positively to President Museveni’s call to combat the HIV pandemic, and through our collective efforts, in large and small ways, we were able to overcome a previously insurmountable challenge.

However, for those of us working to combat the scourge of HIV among children, adolescents, and young people, the report was depressing. 

HIV infection rates among children, teenagers, and young people are unusually high. Unfortunately, nearly half of the 54,000 new HIV infections registered last year, which translates to 1000 new infections every week, were among adolescent girls and young women, who are both the country’s future and its foundation.

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Furthermore, the report’s findings indicate that undiagnosed HIV infections persist among key populations such as injection drug users, transgender people, men who have sex with other men, and sex workers. 

These stigmatized populations, who are frequently the targets of scorn, mockery, and prosecution, carry untreated HIV infections that are routinely seeded into the general population. 

As a result, our efforts are a waste of time and increasingly scarce resources, akin to mopping a flooded floor without turning off the water supply. Because of the widespread stigma they face, these subpopulations rarely request HIV care and prevention services, and when they do, they almost never receive them.

Unfortunately, and as a result of this, HIV is making its final and obstinate stand among this subgroup. If we continue to stigmatize HIV-affected communities through our laws, policies, and practices, our country will be unable to achieve our goal of having an HIV-free generation within the next ten years. 

Not only does the stigma associated with HIV have lethal and negative impacts on these individuals’ health and wellbeing, but it is also a heavy millstone on the neck of the country, making all of our efforts, despite our good and noble intentions, comparable to Sisyphus’ task of rolling a boulder up a hill repeatedly for eternity.

Stigma can fuel stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. 

Furthermore, stigma creates an environment of widespread fear and rejection for children and adolescents who are already receiving antiretroviral therapy for the rest of their lives. 

Children who are HIV positive and attend school must often take their medication covertly for fear of being discovered and stigmatized for having the virus, and this is especially true for HIV positive students who attend boarding schools. 

Children living with HIV face emotional torments because the environment is not as safe and nurturing as it should be.

According to UNAIDS, HIV/AIDS stigma reinforces existing prejudices such as those against sexual minorities. Again, it feeds into and reinforces existing social inequalities, particularly those based on gender, sexuality, and race. 

The stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS exacerbate unequal power relations and control in society. They make some groups feel inferior while making others feel superior. Stigma, in the end, creates and reinforces social inequality, and it is an affront to human rights.

One of the most effective ways to break the cycle of stigma and discrimination is to ensure that people living with HIV live long and healthy lives by addhererinfg to safe and effective ARVS and contributing positively to society.

The best way to accomplish this is to provide treatment to keep people healthier for longer periods of time.

The author is the head of programs at LAYDNET (www.laydnet.org)

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