Testing Publicly to Reduce HIV Stigma
Lindsay is working as intern with AMREF in Tanzania for six months.
By: Lindsay Miles-Pickup
I have always been passionate about working to prevent and fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.
As a social worker back home, I worked closely with low-income communities, particularly sex workers. Sadly, I watched many of these people die from AIDS.
Because of this experience, I was drawn to AMREF’s Haki za Wananchi (meaning “equal rights for all” in Swahili) project. Preventing and managing HIV/AIDS is a major priority for AMREF in Tanzania. The country’s national HIV/AIDS rate is 7 percent, but in the three largest urban slums in Tanzania’s capital city, Dar es Salaam, the rate is 11 percent. The most vulnerable people in these areas (women, commercial sex workers and the disabled) often face the most discrimination.
As a response, the goal of Haki za Wananchi is to encourage prevention and provide treatment and health care services with an emphasis on these vulnerable groups. The project also works to reduce stigma and discrimination, a very real and debilitating issue in the fight against HIV/AIDS, by focusing on treatment as a human rights issue.
Along with my fellow AMREF Tanzania intern Megan, I recently had the opportunity to see first-hand one way in which AMREF works on the ground to squash stigma when I accompanied AMREF Tanzania’s Country Director, Blanche Pitt, to the first annual CEO HIV/AIDS Testing Initiative. This important event marks the anniversary of corporations responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in East Africa. The event is an occasion where CEOs volunteer to get publicly tested to serve as role models to encourage the community to do the same.
With special mention of AMREF, government ministers, NGO leaders and CEOs of large corporations attended the testing event. They also hoped to motivate other business leaders and the community at large to take action against the disease, particularly in the workplace. By testing publicly, they reinforced the key message that knowing your status is power – power to protect yourself, as well as others, and take control of your health and wellbeing.
After being in Tanzania for only a couple of months, I can already see the impact stigma has on people. When you ask someone why they haven’t been tested for HIV, the most common answer is: fear.
But AMREF, alongside corporations, government agencies and other local and international NGOs, are eliminating this stigma through projects like Haki za Wananchi and events like the first annual CEO HIV/AIDS Testing Day.
Not only was it inspiring to see AMREF working closely with so many partners, the event encouraged empowerment through the example of community and corporate leaders getting publicly tested for HIV.
The old saying is that “it takes a village.” A simple Google hit will produce hundreds of songs, lyrics and poems with this sentiment. And what we are seeing in East Africa only reinforces that this is true. Through AMREF’s work with the community, or “village” per se, progress is being made in fighting HIV/AIDS by reducing stigma and fear.