Mmegi Online :: Stigmatisation fades away, but the scars remain
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Last Updated
Monday 11 December 2017, 21:38 pm.
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Stigmatisation fades away, but the scars remain

For years, HIV-positive people suffered from discrimination, prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at them from the community, public health institutions, employers and others. Today, the stigma is fading away, but as Mmegi Correspondent, NASARETHA KGAMANYANE found, the scars run deep for many
By Nnasaretha Kgamanyane Fri 01 Dec 2017, 15:45 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Stigmatisation fades away, but the scars remain








In the early years, where there were no treatment options for HIV and where the disease was poorly understood, those infected with the virus were virtual social outcasts. Families hid their sick and at the funerals, all manner of excuses were made and euphemisms used.

Without credible treatment options in those years, the HIV positive, particularly those of lower income, found that their health rapidly deteriorated and quickly their physical appearance was drawing furtive glances of revolt from the public.

The virus even became an insult of some sort, with some using it to discredit or shame their enemies, even in the respected institutions such as council chambers and the National Assembly.

Thanks to aggressive educational campaigns, stigma is now relatively low in Botswana and although authorities will not admit it, the existence of life-prolonging treatment options means more HIV positive people can walk around healthy and confident, without society wagging accusatory fingers.

People Living with HIV/AIDS, who spoke at the recent PEPFAR Botswana and INK Centre for investigative Journalism’s media training workshop, revealed that while the stigma is ebbing away, many living with the disease are suffering from self-loathing.

The years of stigmatisation have left their marks on the self-confidence of the HIV positive.

Regina Lesolobe explains this better.  The young woman tested positive for HIV in 2000, and thus has suffered stigmatisation for nearly two decades, even from close family members and fellow church congregants.

The experience has meant that even today, she feels very self-conscious.   “I remember one day after bathing I cleaned the tub very well. It was squeaky clean, but when I went back to the bathroom I found my brother cleaning it before he could take a bath.

“I was crushed. I thought he was cleaning it because I had used it before him and he did not want to contract my HIV.

“My whole day was ruined. However, as for my brother he was okay; the day was normal to him. My brother is a very clean person and I later realised that I had gotten all worked up over nothing,” she says.

Lesolobe explained that she stopped dating because she was tired of telling men

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that she was living with the virus. She said one of the reasons she did not want to date was that she would tell a man that she had the virus and the man would agree to use a condom only for him to turn on his words later and say that he didn’t want to use a condom because she was in treatment and looked beautiful and fit.

For others living with the disease, the self-loathing comes from the manner of infection and the interactions with partners over the years.

Onalethata Lebebe was diagnosed with HIV in 2013. She was dating a man whom she thought loved her dearly. One night, she says, he forced himself on her without using a condom and the same night, her whole body was itching.

She decided to go for an HIV test and initially it was negative. However, after the window period, she tested positive. The ex-boyfriend confirmed that he was HIV positive and even told her he had known about his status before that fateful night. They broke up.

“I once dated a man who said he did not mind my status,” she says.

“This was up until one day when the condom we were using broke. He threatened to go to the media and even sue me for infecting him.

“He, however, tested negative and I decided to call it quits. I decided not to date again because I faced rejection all the time I disclosed my status.” Lebebe recalls that after finding out her status four years ago, she contemplated suicide, but the thoughts of her son kept her from the drastic action. She had strong feelings of anger and despair.  She had to work through these to focus on her health and positive living.

Today, Botswana joins the world and celebrates World AIDS Day under the theme ‘Everybody Counts’. The day provides an opportunity for the nation, communities, families and friends to join hands and support people living with HIV and AIDS.

Even the most simple of actions can make those living with the disease feel loved, supported and taken care of, and help ease self-stigmatisation.

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