25 Apr 2012 HIV/AIDS stigma reduction project by Grassroots Female Communicators Association
The GRAFCA project that began in July 2011 is designed to build the capacity of village leaders in Songea Rural District to challenge discrimination and lead an anti-stigma campaign.
At the workshop, medical officer Dr. Pius Fusi noted that while more people are seeking anti-retroviral treatment in the village dispensary, it is possible there are others seeking treatment directly at the District hospital. Fear of stigma causes people living with HIV to seek treatment in distant centres to minimize the risk of their communities knowing their seropositive status.
As a project sustainability strategy, two task forces were formed and are conducting meetings at the grassroots.
“We believe this strategy of dealing with HIV/AIDS stigma reduction will also be initiated by other wards in Songea rural district as the task forces promised to make it a continuous exercise,” says Dominica Haule, the project coordinator. She is hopeful that such workshops will continue reducing stigma. However, she observed that communication from the village level to the district level regarding HIV/AIDS issues remains a challenge.
Other concerns noted at the workshop included the tendency to blame women as sources of HIV/AIDS in families. The meeting also observed an increase of people living with HIV/AIDS engaged in micro enterprises to meet their basic survival needs.
The stories below of Markus and Esther about life after their HIV positive diagnoses inspired workshop participants:
Had I known that telling our village chairperson that I was HIV positive would make my life miserable, I would not have done so.
I tested HIV positive in April 2010. I thought the only person who could help and enable me get the assistance I needed was the village chairperson due to his political power and influence. I was devastated when he announced at a village meeting that I was HIV positive.
That day marked the beginning of a miserable life as my relatives blamed me for disclosing my seropositive status. They started isolating me.
I was left without moral or material support. I contemplated committing suicide. However I confided to a friend who convinced me not to end my life but instead encouraged me to accept the situation and seek treatment just like she had after testing positive in 2006 and has since been healthy under anti-retroviral treatment.
Although I did not commit suicide, I was ashamed and hid from the public. I stopped singing for the church choir where I was a dedicated member for many years.
My efforts to get treatment failed because of bureaucracy and nepotism.
As a result of the workshop and the subsequent action by the task force, Esther successfully registered for anti-retroviral drugs and has been undergoing treatment since November, 2011.
Thank God l am economically better than before I tested HIV positive.
In 2009 I was diagnosed HIV positive. I became sick, my wife ran away and it was my elderly mother and sister who took care of me in my grass-thatched house. Fortunately I managed to access anti-retroviral drugs and my health improved. I gained weight and felt less ill over time.
I did not believe in death but in struggle for survival.
I started a small farming business, rearing pigs and cultivating maize, beans, groundnuts, peas and other food crops for sale. My farming business thrived, I was able to build a second house and roofed my two houses with corrugated iron sheets. I decided to marry another woman, but to my surprise, my first wife returned upon realising I had become healthier and my economic status had improved.
I have enough money to take care of my family.
The biggest problem I face now is stigma. I feel the stigma most when selling my farm produce.
Markus’ story inspired workshop participants to support him in fighting stigma.
*Grassroots Female Communicators Association (GRAFCA) is a non-profit organisation created by female journalists and communicators interested and committed in the development of rural communities. It publishes Parapanda, a newspaper intended to enlighten authorities on issues affecting poor rural populations.
**The project funded by WACC will be completed in July, 2012.
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