Virus or stigma: what kills faster?

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By Chibuike Alagboso

I will never forget the look on her face as she collected her HIV screening result from me. She kept staring at it and I am sure she was very oblivious of my existence at that particular moment or even the existence of any other thing in the world that moment. 

I can imagine the thoughts racing through her mind. How will she tell people? How her family, friends, colleagues will they receive the news?

The scenario above play out in most health centers, laboratories and screening centers across the globe especially in third world countries where HIV is still perceived as a death sentence. It is very sad to note that most mortalities from HIV infection results from stigmatization and rejection by the society. When the individual is ostracized, the psychological trauma has devastating effect on them which leads to their early demise.

In as much we claim to know about HIV, there is still much to teach people at the primary health care level about transmission to help check the effects of stigmatization. Surprisingly, even at the secondary and tertiary health care level, there is still much work to be done as medical personnel and other hospital staffs often change their attitude the instant a patient is diagnosed of HIV infection.

If a patient can’t receive adequate attention from the very place they consider to be their last resort, then they are bound to feel helpless, ostracized and doomed which will consequently have adverse effects on the progression of their illness.

Government can do a lot in this area by making favorable policies and passing them into law. Religious bodies, health associations, individuals, NGOs etc all can create public enlightenment campaigns to help sensitize people more and equip them with correct information.

The role of peer educators is also very important in this fight because they are one of the at risk group and one of the unique features of being young is that they tend to confide more in themselves than in elderly members of the society. In as much this is not safe, it can exploited to obtain positive results by equipping young people with correct information which they will end of passing to their peers during their chit chats.

The immense role of internet and social media cannot be over emphasized because of its wide reach and limitless potential. People tend to turn to internet easily to find solutions and answers to their everyday questions. It is therefore the role of social media enthusiasts and online health journalists/bloggers that are grounded in issues bothering on HIV to ensure they access correct information.

Most importantly, those affected have to come out more. If all these machineries are out in place to assist them, they have to fight their own fight also by coming out to tell their stories and helping to end the spread.

Leading by example is another major strategy. Experts have to teach that most beliefs about HIV transmission are false. And for this to be more effective, they have to reach by example by interacting with people living with HIV/AIDS. Together, with collaborative efforts of all resources, we can win the fight against HIV in this century.
This opinion piece was written by Chris Alagboso 

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