Nigeria has the second highest number of people suffering from HIV globally, with about three point eight million people recorded as having the virus. Unfortunately, these individuals are often subjected to social ostracism and stigma as a result.
The stigma is a consequence of associations of the virus with danger, contagion and immorality. Indeed, many Nigerians discriminate against those with HIV as they see the disease as a sin and a danger they would rather avoid. However, HIV stigma and discrimination has the opposite effect. Consequences of the stigma include impediment to testing, treatment uptake, and adherence.
This is the contradiction: Nigerians stigmatise HIV sufferers in order to avoid danger, but by doing so, they hinder the containment of the virus, indirectly causing more danger for themselves as well as the HIV positive.
Both the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals call for a halt to the spread of the virus. While the MDGs aimed to halt HIV by 2015 and reverse its spread, the SDGs sought to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. As we have seen, however, perceptions of HIV block the attainment of these goals. In addition to hindering progress towards eradicating, HIV stigma also threatens the personal wellbeing of those with the virus. According to a study by Babatunde Fatoki of Ajeromi General Hospital, stigmas associated with HIV causes lower general health.
Findings also indicated that HIV sufferers are even stigmatised by healthcare workers, the very individuals who should be taking care of them. These social perceptions are unacceptable and must be eradicated by the government.
Nigeria is nearly up to date and in compliance with UNAIDS guidelines on policy requirements. However, there is clearly a need for more diligence in government legislation in order to eliminate stigma from the treatment and discourse of HIV.
Fatoki’s study also found that poor information about HIV feeds the stigma. As a result, it is the Ministry of Health’s responsibility to further educate Nigerians regarding HIV in order to support these changes. We as a people must end the unnecessary stigmatisation
There is a need for more public awareness and less public aversion to HIV and the discussion thereof. Only by eradicating the epidemic of HIV stigma can we hope eradicate the virus associated with it. It begins with us. May God Bless the people of our beloved Country, Nigeria.
Funmilayo Adetokubo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.