The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.
Sarthak Singla, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur
The Zero Discrimination Day was observed on March 1, 2014 for the first time, after UNAIDS, a UN program on Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), launched its Zero Discrimination Campaign on World AIDS Day in December 2013.Organizations like the United Nations (UN) have actively promoted the day with various activities to celebrate everyone’s right to live a full life with dignity regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, skin color, height, weight, profession, education, and beliefs.
Stigma happens when others devalue a person or a group of people because they are associated with a certain disease, behavior or practice. Stigma is invariably associated with discrimination as an outcome. The effects of both can be even worse for groups who already are marginalized because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or substance abuse.
Due to the male dominance and oppressive culture in many rural and urban settings in India and because women are held to a different moral standard than men, they often are disproportionately blamed for HIV in their communities and are at a greater risk of facing discrimination and ostracization. Criminalization for some behaviors like homosexuality, drug abuse and sex work increases the magnitude of stigma and discrimination while decreasing the access to healthcare services of the associated sub-populations.
At the start of the AIDS epidemic, countries around the world addressed AIDS, using straight talk, evidence-based approaches, and the engagement of people living with HIV. The past few years have seen a decrease in spending on Information Education and Communication (IEC). Misconceptions about modes of HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention tend to bring in the negative attitude towards PLHAs. A 2010 study in Tamil Nadu showed that urban youth who believe that transfusion of untested/unsafe blood cannot transmit HIV/AIDS infection and also HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted from pregnant mother to unborn child are significantly more likely to perceive stigma towards PLHAs than other people. This indicates that perceived stigma and discrimination is strongly linked to general levels of knowledge about HIV/AIDS modes of transmission and prevention. In other words, the knowledge and perception of how HIV/AIDS is transmitted is important on how people perceive PLHAs. Thus IEC campaigns on HIV/AIDS need to be intensified to dispel some of the prevailing misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. Only clear and candid information about how HIV is and is not transmitted will alleviate unnecessary fear and discrimination.
Isolation – within their homes, in public, at their workplaces or ostracization of people living with HIV is a brutal outcome of stigma and discrimination in the HIV context. They are further stigmatized by others’ assumptions about their moral integrity – such as the belief that they became infected with HIV because they chose to take part in risky or “sinful” behaviors.
Stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS is a key challenge in the fight against HIV/AIDS.It creates a climate in which decisive action from the government may be side stepped. Regardless of the context, the causes and consequences of stigma and discrimination are the same worldwide. It happens whether you are a person living with HIV AIDS (PLHA), belong to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) community or a man who injects drugs; whether you live in a rural or urban community, and in countries as culturally different as India or United States. Those who stigmatize people living with HIV falsely believe that the virus is highly contagious and that they could easily become infected.
In the end, stigma and discrimination continue to undermine prevention, treatment and care of people living with the HIV and AIDS. It hinders those with the virus from telling their partners about their status. It causes hindrance to the implementation of prevention and awareness programs thus decreasing the access of the vulnerable population to diagnostic and preventive services. It threatens their access to health care. It increases their vulnerability to physical violence. And HIV-related stigma affects people’s ability to earn a living, making it even more difficult for them to lift themselves out of poverty.