HIV STIGMA..DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP!

Today I received news that a lady I knew a while ago in West Africa just died of AIDS.

In the past 6 months, this is the third news I have received about individuals who have died of AIDS.

One of the things that was disturbing as I learnt of her passing is the fact that she had known that she had this virus for years but kept it a secret and continuously passed it around through intimacy with others.

There is a huge stigma for anyone who is identified as a HIV career in Africa. People will alienate themselves from a HIV carrier, community would isolate the individual, family may even dissociate contact for fear of contamination. Anyone with HIV is believed to be promiscuous; a shame to the society, thus HIV client would keep their result a secret thereby reducing the chances of ever getting medications to help suppress the virus on a daily basis.

Often time, when a person is diagnosed as a HIV carrier and fully understands it’s consequences, out of fear of being stigmatized by the society, they convey a totally different narrative to family members. In the cases of these three individuals, they made everyone believe they were being attacked spiritually thus their constant turbulent ailment. This is a pattern often exuded by individuals with HIV in Africa because they are afraid of how the society will respond to them if they are outed.

The fear of stigmatization is a barrier to HIV testing, counseling and further HIV awareness.

I would like to bring to awareness some amazing people in the world who strive to see that HIV can be curbed.

Three years ago, while studying in Los Angeles, I volunteered to serve at a facility known for providing services to HIV clients.

Two awesome guys who managed

this organization are diagnosed with HIV over 20years ago and through a system have managed to suppress the virus preventing it from going to full blown AIDS.

For over a month I compartmentalized my time and served with these survivals helping HIV clients go through their daily activities with medication; including medications that can prevent HIV if taken 72 hours after intimacy. I have seen so many HIV patients and I have learnt so much. On a daily basis I would listen to the clients as they shared their processes heartily with me. They shared their life transition and how the virus was transmitted to them. For most of them, it was a one time affair.

Over the years, I have developed a deep connection for the excruciating mind battles these individuals encounter as a result of their HIV status.

I learnt about PREP- The new HIV prevention strategy which helps to prevent people from being infected. Fromsurvey, 1 in 8 are living with HIV and are unaware of their infection, more than 1.2 million people in the U.S are living with HIV infection.In Sub Saharan Africa 24.7 million people are living with HIV with 1.1 million AIDS – related deaths.

If you are aware you have HIV ,what good will it bring to you passing it to others and making them suffer?

Early detection of HIV may improve the medical and psychological support for HIV-infected persons. Do not be afraid to speak up and seek help.

We must collaboratively STOP HIV stigmatization. These are individuals who need help. The knowledge alone is such a heavy burden for one person to bear. Let 2019 be the year where we develop more empathy and truly see ourselves in others.🙏

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