Commission committed to eliminating HIV stigma

The National HIV/AIDS Commission is actively working towards the goal of having an AIDS free, HIV stigma and discrimination free generation by 2020.

Director of the Commission, Jacqueline Wiltshire Gay says they are hoping to make significant progress during the next strategic period, which will be guided by the National Strategic Plan 2014-18 for HIV: Investing for Results. Wiltshire Gay said that outlined in that plan are three priorities, which are aimed at reducing the still too high prevalence of HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination in this country. According to her, they include high impact prevention interventions; expansion of treatment and care, as well as the creation of the enabling environment with the right mix of structural interventions.

Her comments came recently during the HIV Dissemination Meeting under the theme ‘Demystifying Stigma and Discrimination: A Stakeholder’s Perspective’ at the Warrens Office Complex, as she noted that HIV/AIDS is a “powerful deterrent of individual freedom and self-determination”, and can isolate families; discourage registration in national treatment and support programmes, and further limit access to information, prevention, care, and treatment.

According to the Director, although the evidence shows that there has been noticeable reduction in Barbados as far as stigma is concerned, there is still too much being experienced by People Living with HIV (PLHIV). She went on to explain that groups prefer to work with the “safe” populations such as youth and children, rather than with key populations, and even though there is evidence that both knowledge of HIV and AIDS and government responses in Barbados have increased significantly, HIV-related  stigma persists. With that in mind, the HIV/AIDS Commission Director, noted that stigma is perceived as a major limiting factor, not only preventing access to care and treatment services, but compromising voluntary testing and counselling.

“This makes stigma yet another life obstacle in the path of many of the very people who are already faced with social and economic challenges. Combating stigma therefore remains an important task for HIV programmes throughout the world.  We are very familiar with the saying ‘HIV doesn’t discriminate; people do’, and discriminate they do at the individual and societal levels,” she contended.

Wiltshire Gay added, “At the individual level, AIDS stigma takes the form of behaviours, thoughts, and feelings that express prejudice against PLHIV, and also persons perceived to be PLHIV. These cannot be corrected by legislation. You can’t legislate against stigma; it is how people feel, how they behave and again the evidence shows that this affects the individual’s decision to get tested, access health care, and to withhold information about their status from family members, friends, and care providers. This leads to social isolation which negatively affects lives.”

The Government official noted that at the societal level, AIDS stigma is manifested in laws, policies, popular dialogue, and the social circumstances of PLHIV and those at risk of infection. She lamented that these persons continue to face discrimination in employment, housing, access to health services, social and community programmes, and basic civil and human rights.  The Director’s comments came as she noted that social stigma is practised through failure of public policy and practices, as well as by private groups – non-government organisations and faith based organisations that do not recognise equal rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. (JRT)

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