Imagine that you got sick…maybe it was a result of your own actions, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe your partner, who you love and trust implicitly…made you sick. Maybe they betrayed you, maybe they just didn’t know and it never occurred to them to get tested for one reason or another. Maybe your mother was sick and the appropriate medications simply weren’t available when you were born to help keep you from getting sick too…maybe they were available but she just couldn’t afford them.
Either way, now you’re sick, too.
Not only are you trying to deal with the social factor of how you actually got sick, absorb this life-changing news you’ve just received, but in addition, you are also trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for your medications that you now have to be on for the rest of your life. Now, imagine you confide in a loved one about how scared and confused you are…only to have them recoil from you in disgust, fear, rejection written all over their face. Your loved one tells your family and the news spreads like a wildfire. Before you know it, individuals who have known you all your life…are telling you that you are no longer welcome.
Imagine you’re a child who has just lost your parents who were sick…the overwhelming grief and confusion. Your extended family has suspected the reason for their long-term illness, but it is confirmed at the hospital. Without explaining much to you, a lot of shouting and crying about something called “HIV”, your family hands you a bag with a few items of clothing in it, perhaps a few cedis if you’re lucky, and informs you that you can never come home.
The point of this blog isn’t to be overly dramatic or sensationalize anything, and I don’t mean to insinuate that those who are afraid of HIV are “bad” people. Only to draw attention the realities of stigma that exist across the globe and to offer a perspective about how the fear of bearing the brunt of such stigma is a large part of why many individuals at risk of HIV don’t want to test themselves. There are so many complexities when it comes to HIV because at the root of this disease is human behavior which are intricately linked to emotions, responses, and fears. While the situations highlighted in this blog today are not based on specific individuals, they are by no means hypothetical. Research has shown time and time again the negative impact of stigma on health management. So, let’s rally around each other as human beings, rather than as “sick” or “not-sick”, and be advocates for those who are no different than we are. It is only when enough people have this attitude of support for others that we will see wide-spread changes in human behavior.