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HIV Stigma Persists

HIV Stigma Persists

Awareness campaigns on the part of government and civil groups have failed to mitigate HIV-related stigma and discrimination in South Africa, preventing many from seeking testing and treatment.

A recently published study by the University of Cape Town's Center for Social Science Research found that among 1,074 young people interviewed in 2003 and 2006, HIV/AIDS stigma actually increased despite public sector campaigns and enhanced treatment and care services. The findings indicate the need for renewed efforts to reduce stigma and minimize some of the negative associations linked to the disease, said CSSR researcher Brendan Maughan-Brown.

At the Louwville-based West Coast Community HIV/AIDS Initiative, which serves communities throughout the Saldhana Bay municipality, staff say stigma and discrimination prevent those infected from learning or disclosing their status. Many patients will not even open up to WCCHAI's home-based caregivers, making it difficult for them to provide appropriate treatment.

The fear of discrimination and isolation is stronger than the reasoning that knowing one's status can protect and prolong life, said Merle van Oordt, WCCHAI's project manager. Most of the program's patients find out they are HIV-positive after multiple bouts with TB, she said. By that time, their immune systems are too weak to start antiretrovirals. "We have to treat the opportunistic infection first and can only start ARVs later. But for many that's too late," van Oordt said.

Denial is also a major hurdle. "We still get people who don't know what HIV is and who believe it doesn't affect them," said van Oordt. "It's a very bleak picture."

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