Writes Key Correspondent, Linda Lilian.
Stigma continues to prevent people from testing for HIV and accessing life saving drugs in Uganda, including pregnant women. It has also been a prominent cause of domestic violence.
According to nursing officer Evanis Kalwaka, most women find out they are HIV positive from antenatal care which includes testing. As a consequence, they are often divorced and beaten by men who say the woman has brought the problem into the home. HIV/AIDS also causes domestic violence when partners fail to disclose their serostatus.
Mukembo Moses, a laboratory technologist, says more women have responded to testing compared to men and yet in cases where one partner tests positive, there is a lack of compliance in results. There is often fear to disclose one’s serostatus.
Martin Moare, a clinical officer, states that stigma is high among women of high social class who feel their HIV status should not be known by other people in the community. This has led to them seeking treatment in hospital far from home where they are not known.
Kakyo, a health worker, argues that stigma is often aimed at women living with HIV who are not pregnant, especially those who are not married. When tested positive, its difficult for them to fulfill their appointments and to disclose their status. It is often worse for the younger women.
She adds: “Religious women suffer most from stigma and counseling them for testing is difficult. Usually they only test once HIV has manifested as AIDS and few adhere to their appointments.”
Enock Kyakunzire, a clinician, points out that men are also stigmatized because they fear accessing voluntary counselling and testing services. In comparison, women are brave and will often get out of their way to get tested and access drugs.
“Men are the last to want to get healthcare but are the first to accuse women for bringing the disease,” he says.
Rachel, a health worker, concurs with Enoch citing that men are considered to be more promiscuous than women in society and so fear being exposed as HIV positive and accessing HIV drugs.