Few diseases have been more misunderstood, feared, and stigmatized than HIV and AIDS. People living with HIV have been ostracized, harassed, and judged. In some cases, HIV-positive people have been barred from attending school, fired from their jobs, and evicted from their homes.
In particular, the stigma associated with HIV has made individuals reluctant to access HIV testing, treatment, and care. It has fuelled myths and inaccurate information, further preventing people vulnerable to infection from getting the information they need.
Thus, even now in many countries where governments offer free testing and treatment, stigmatization and criminalisation of people vulnerable to HIV transmission still places huge obstacles in the way of effective prevention, treatment and support.
Fortunately, public awareness is increasing and accurate information is being shared, in part due to the media. Information campaigns and broadcast messages from influential people as well as from persons living openly with HIV have helped to change hearts and minds.
“When a major epidemic strikes, every form of communication is vital to creating better understanding of its provenance, its dangers, and what can be done to alleviate it,” commented WACC General Secretary Rev. Dr. Karin Achtelstetter.
Religious leaders and community leaders have also been important agents in changing attitudes and sharing accurate information, given their authority and knowledge of local situations.
For the past three years, WACC has partnered with Hope for HIV/AIDS International (HFA) based in Lagos, Nigeria, in a project aimed at reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. The project was awarded a grant by UKaid and its Department for International Development (DFID).
The HFA project educates religious and community leaders about HIV-related stigma, equipping them with knowledge and communication tools to strengthen care and support efforts and to advocate for the rights of people living with or affected by HIV. Through the project, 1,300 leaders have been trained and are reaching out to their communities to share accurate facts on HIV and messages aimed at overcoming stigma, as well as to provide support and counselling services.
In a recent report titled “90-90-90: An ambitious treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic”, UNAIDS notes, “Ending the AIDS epidemic is more than a historic obligation to the 39 million people who have died of the disease. It also represents a momentous opportunity to lay the foundation for a healthier, more just and equitable world for future generations. Ending the AIDS epidemic will inspire broader global health and development efforts, demonstrating what can be achieved through global solidarity, evidence-based action and multi-sectoral partnerships.”
The 90-90-90 slogan refers to a new, ambitious, but achievable target: by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people diagnosed with HIV will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
As the UNAIDS report notes, “In the post-2015 era, it is now clear that the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic is achievable – but only if the world strategically uses the enormous human, technical and financial resources at its disposal.”
WACC’s General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Karin Achtelstetter, emphasized that “World AIDS Day is an opportunity for governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community organizations, and communicators around the world to focus attention on the AIDS pandemic and to encourage more meaningful and sustained responses.”
In the face of a pandemic like HIV and AIDS, it is impossible to overestimate the life-saving significance of communicating relevant information and knowledge. For this reason, on World AIDS Day 2014, WACC is promoting a communication approach to HIV and AIDS based on rights, understanding, acceptance, and compassion.
Further information on WACC's work on fighting discrimination and stigmatization can be found here.