When we speak about HIV today, there still exists some element of fear and uncertainty by many individuals towards People Living with HIV (PLHIV). Even with the vast wealth of information and education, some persons continue to stigmatise and discriminate against PLHIV. This poses a significant challenge for navigating and retaining persons in HIV care and treatment programmes.
How do we help PLHIV to deal with stigma and discrimination? We simply continue the fight with counselling, continuous education, and equipping persons with the correct tools such as information on civil society organisations that provide specific help and guidance on how to deal with discrimination.
From the beginning of the process, this fear of stigma poses a challenge to get persons to participate in free HIV testing. They fear being identified and discussed. For persons who have tested positive, the problem becomes more significant. They fear being identified with the HIV clinic, and the thought of family, friends and coworkers being made aware of their diagnosis can affect their enrolment in treatment. Because of this reality and their need for privacy coupled with their self-guilt and shame, we face high rates of non-adherence to treatment, dropouts and loss to follow-up.
We must understand the impact this situation has not only on the individual but on society. Only then can we fully grasp the extent of the damage that is created as a result of stigma and discrimination against PLHIV.
The fear of being stigmatised and discriminated against is real; we, therefore, have to continue to empower PLHIV to deal with it, and to know that there is hope and help beyond that situation hence equipping them to be physically and mentally healthy.