Stigma hindering war against HIV/AIDS

2 Dec 2011

Stigma hindering war against HIV/AIDS

1 December 2011 - Calls for zero discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) were repeated in several South Sudanese states during World Aids Day commemorations today.

The theme for this year's Day was "Zero New HIV/Aids infection and Zero Discrimination by 2015".

In Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria State, County Commissioner Felix Otuduha urged residents to refrain from stigmatising and discriminating HIV positive individuals. "We should sympathize with the infected persons, support them. If we laugh at the victims today, we may be the ones facing this destiny tomorrow."

Easter Equatoria Minister of Health Sam Felix Makuja stressed that an extensive HIV/AIDS awareness campaign was required from the state level down to people's homes.

"The government alone can do little to eliminate AIDS," he said. "It should be the responsibility of each and every individual to teach about AIDS at home, school, church or any gathering," Minister Makuja said.

Efforts to raise awareness about the disease were ongoing during the Day in Western Bahr El-Ghazal state, where Voluntary Confidential Counselling and Testing (VCCT) camps were set up at Wau Stadium.

"Two hundred and sixty two were found positive out of 2,986 clients tested in 2010, and 17 were found positive out 1,021 clients tested in 2011," said Dr. Isaac Cleto, state Minister of Health.

Atima Mario, a participant at the Wau stadium event, said neighbours had isolated her after she discovered she had the disease. "I was suffering from an unknown sickness ... I went to the hospital only to discover that I was HIV positive."

Ms. Mario called on the state government and community to support HIV victims, showing them love and concern.

At celebrations for the Day in the Western Equatoria State capital of Yambio, Bullen Yotoma, chairperson of the local Nabanga Aids Care and Support Organization, said that stigma and discrimination had reduced in the area due to increased awareness.

"There is a relative awareness with regard to HIV/AIDS among the people and the level of stigma and discrimination has been diminishing from time to time," Mr. Yotoma said.

Officials at Yambio's Freedom Square commemoration noted that the HIV prevalence rate was 7.2 per cent, with Tambura, Ezo and Nzara counties leading in infections.

State Governor Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro emphasized the need to continue raising awareness about the disease. "We must fight HIV/AIDS aggressively. Each institution across the state must have a person to sensitize others about HIV/AIDS."

Focusing on causes of the disease, Upper Nile State HIV/AIDS Commission Director Joseph Obwony attributed infections to cultural practices like widow inheritance and cultural initiation.

"You must avoid the use of unsterilized tools, which can lead to HIV/AIDS transmission, especially when conducting cultural practices like taking out of the bottom teeth and cutting of the forehead," he said.

Upper Nile Minister of Health Stephen Lor Nyak said his ministry would conduct a state-wide HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in January 2012, urging the community to take the lead and visit VCCT offices for testing.

In Warrap State, HIV/AIDS Commission Director Deng Akol Madut told a crowd gathered at Freedom Square in the capital Kuajok that the prevalence rate for the disease, now at 0.7 per cent, was set to rise.

"HIV/AIDS remains a challenge as prevalence and incidence continue to increase," said Mr. Madut. "This is because knowledge about transmission and prevention is still extremely low across Warrap State, especially among women. Multiple concurrent partners, high level of stigma and discrimination are other driving factors."

William Mabior Achuil, Director of the CBO Food & Agriculture Development Agency, said that high rates of HIV in the states would be no surprise. "HIV messages are ignored by our people ... This is a gap that needs the concern of the leaders of the community to seal and advocate so that the risk of HIV/AIDS will be reduced."