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SADC HIV-AIDS Consultant Says Community Leaders Play Key Role in Reducing HIV Stigma

FILE: In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, a 16-year-old HIV-positive girl, whose mother died from AIDS-related complications, recounts her experiences.

The virus that causes AIDS, the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV), is no longer the life-threatening medical condition it once was, when it was first discovered more than 30 years ago.

However, despite it now being termed a chronic but treatable disease, enabling many with it to live long healthy lives, fear of stigma still prevents many from exposing their status or going for testing.

Health experts warn that stigma could defeat efforts to end the spread of the disease.

Elophi Sibanda, an HIV/AIDS consultant with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), told VOA Studio 7, that while stigmatization is declining, more awareness is needed, especially from leaders in the community and other influential areas.

“Stigma came at a time when HIV was not treatable, when it was very difficult to manage it and when people were associating it HIV infection with almost the loss of lives. I think we have made a lot of gains in that now in that HIV is now treated as a chronic disease which will last for many years.

“So, the question on how to deal with stigma is really to increase the gospel, if you like, of how well we are now able to manage the condition.”

He said moves by parliamentarians to get tested and publicize their results helped a lot in reducing the stigma though “that was not supposed to be a one-off event.

“I think the example by parliamentarians was actually excellent as they were trying to face the fact that stigma is one of the causes of the increasing rate of HIV.”

Professor Sibanda noted that popular Zimbabweans will help in reducing the stigma if they publicized their status.

“It should be able to change for the better but it’s a process. It’s a matter of process where people who are HIV positive will be able to tell everybody else and they may as individuals want to discuss that but maybe they have to consult families and so on,” he said.

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