Government of Uganda’s provision that during the COVID-19 induced lock-down, districts will make available vehicles at designated points to drive people living with HIV (PLHIV) to health centres to pick their medication is humanitarian and compassionate, but only on the face of it. In real life, for some PLHIV this provision could be a death sentence.
“One of the challenges we have been told by some of the clients (PLHIV) who we were able to deliver ARVs (Antiretroviral drugs) to (during the lock-down) is stigma and social discrimination.”Emmy Otim
Fear to be stigmatised because one is infected with HIV is real and is prevalent in Uganda. While doing a qualitative empirical study on tuberculosis (TB), in 2017, for example, some of our CPAR Uganda study participants referred to a ‘TB-HIV-AIDS association’ fear.
A fear, apparently, that makes suspected TB patients hesitate to seek diagnostic services and that makes TB patients hesitate to seek treatment; or at worst not to do so at all.
The fear being that if one is confirmed a TB patient, fellow community members may automatically think that the confirmed TB patient is also infected with HIV and is therefore “finished.”
“People know that HIV cannot be treated and cured. It is like a death sentence. Here (northern Uganda) they use the word (to describe HIV and AIDS) which means that it is just controlled, but it will not heal.
And that you (person infected with HIV or an AIDS patient) are most likely going to infect other people.
Even your woman or your husband will run away, because the woman will fear to die or the man will fear to die.”CPAR Uganda Research Study Respondent
Our CPAR Uganda study, in fact, found that within the minds of Ugandans, the two infections, HIV and TB, have come to be closely associated. The popular delivery of TB management services at ART (Antiretroviral Treatment) centres is one of the contributory reasons why, moreover.
It is also, according to our study findings, among the reasons inhibiting suspected TB patients from seeking diagnostic services; and or confirmed TB patients from seeking treatment from ART centres.
“Stigma against people infected with HIV, explains why most people living with HIV prefer picking their medication from health facilities far away from their residential areas.”Emmy Otim
This, presumably, is so that their fellow community members don’t find out their HIV status.
While, therefore, we appreciate the Government of Uganda’s humanitarian and compassionate intervention to provide vehicles to drive PLHIV to health centres, in order to access ARVs; at the same time, we demand that Government avoids putting PLHIV in danger of social isolation and stigma.
We implore and advise Government to support alternative interventions for PLHIV to access the medication that they need to sustain their lives. Interventions, such as of civil society volunteers who do home deliveries of ARVs; and who do so in a manner that allows PLHIV to retain their right to privacy.
By Ms. Norah Owaraga, CPAR Uganda Ltd Managing Director
Post featured picture source: Ministry of Health