IT is almost similar stories – stigmatization, discrimination, family abandonment, failure to administer prescribed medication and doctors/nurses being rude to patient are told when it comes to the commemoration of the ‘World AIDS Day’ on every December 01.
The challenges facing people living with HIV/AIDS are repeatedly narrated during the day because they have a negative impact on the global efforts to control the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Also at different events organized by the Zanzibar AIDS Commission (ZAC) in collaboration with the department of ‘Integrated HIV, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programme (ZIHHTLP)’ under the Ministry of Health to observe this year’s ‘World AIDS Day’, the main message was to stop stigmatization.
Health officers and stakeholders who took part in the events focused on stopping stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV as studies show these two discourage HIV positive people to go for counseling and treatment.
It is argued further that due to stigma, infected individuals are often unwilling to disclose their status and some of them still engage in high-risk behaviours leading to increased transmission of the virus. Dr Ahmed Mohamed Khatib from ZAC says everyone should take a role in ensuring that people living with HIV are not disturbed and neglected.
Dr Mansour Maulid Mshenga- coordinator and Dr Mariam Hamdu Khalfan- officer, HIV treatment programmes said they organized week-long events that include counseling and promoting voluntary testing, along with discouraging stigma.
They said public response to the free testing and counselling was impressing although there were people who still hesitate to go for free counseling and testing due to stigma.
Dr Mshenga said that available data (September 2020) show there were 7,598 people living with HIV in Zanzibar of which 71.4 per cent are in sexually active group (age between 16 and 50), while 4.3 per cent are children below 15 years of age.
“As we observe the AIDS Day, we also assess our development in battling the spread of the disease. So far we are on track to achieve national and global goals but we need to double our efforts,” said Dr Mshenga.
He said that treatment centres have increased to 14 including four in Pemba Island, and that Zanzibar already has 168 centres for testing HIV, and 177 centres with the health staff or the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
Dr Khalfan says there was no reason for one not to know his/her health status as far as HIV testing is concerned. “Our facilities have been improved in the past decade including the VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) centres,” she said.
She also pointed out that the Home based care using the community volunteers has been doing well. “What is needed is just to give the address of the person living with HIV, so that we can reach him or her provide care.”
Mr Yussuf Abdulrahman, 41, is living with HIV and says care in Zanzibar has improved. He thanks the government and development partners for the changes. Mr Soud Khamis Soud a young person living with HIV said there was a need to increase public awareness so that people can change behaviour to reduce risk of infection.
The Second Vice President Mr Hemed Suleiman Abdalla is urging members of the society starting from family level to stop stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. He says that although the prevalence is low compared to the situation in other countries, Zanzibaris should join hands with the government to win the war against HIV.
Zanzibar target aligns with the global one, to have zero transmission of HIV by 2030. Health authorities here say that while Zanzibar moves steadily to achieve the 90-90-90 or 95-95-95 per cent target in controlling the spread of HIV, the challenge of controlling the preventable ‘mother-to-child transmission of HIV,’ and use of ARV remains another issue in addition to stigma.
Statistics shows that although the HIV prevalence is below one per cent, there is still more for the ministry, society, men, and the media to do to ensure the global target to have no new HIV cases by 2030 is reached.