A clinical haematologist, Dr. Wole Banjoko, says efforts to end discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in the society must now include proper education of health workers about the health condition.
According to Banjoko, discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS is deep-rooted in society and even occur among some health professionals who should be educating the populace about it.
Banjoko was reacting to a United Nations report released on January 25, which indicated that discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS is still a major issue in many countries.
The UN, report which covered 151 countries, stated that while discriminatory attitude towards persons living with HIV has declined in some regions, it has rebounded in others.
The report says, “Among 151 reporting countries, 92 continue to criminalise HIV exposure, transmission and nondisclosure — all grave violations of the rights of people living with HIV that also frustrate efforts to control HIV epidemics.
“These laws reinforce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and those more vulnerable to HIV infection, they disregard up-to-date knowledge on the science of HIV-related risks and harms, and they have adverse impacts on public health.
“The most recent data from population-based surveys show that while discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV are declining consistently in some regions, they are rebounding in others.
“In eastern and southern Africa, for instance, discriminatory attitudes have been reduced to historically low levels in some countries. Elsewhere, however, disconcertingly large proportions of adults continue to hold discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV.
“In 25 of 36 countries with recent data on a composite indicator that includes two types of discriminatory attitudes, more than 50 per cent of people aged 15 to 49 years reported having discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIIV.”
Banjoko who is a consultant haematologist said that while the report has rightly confirmed that discrimination varies based on geographical locations, noting that discrimination is usually driven by peoples values and beliefs as well as taboos in their society.
He, however, stressed that major reason discrimination continues to be a major issue was due to lack of education about the viral condition.
“Many people don’t understand the disease. That is why they react the way they do.
“We have seen discrimination even among health workers with some doctors, nurses and midwives.
“So we need more education for everyone including health workers.
“The education should be about identifying their wrong beliefs and addressing them because that is the fundamental reason why discrimination persists.
“If people are not well educated, then they will definitely continue to discriminate against persons living with HIV,” he said.
The haematologist stated further that the discriminatory attitude is more in less developed countries with a low level of literacy and education.
“This attitude would be common especially in the less developed countries who are not well educated.
“It would also be prevalent in countries that are very religious like some African countries. Many people in these countries still think HIV/AIDS is a disease of sexual immorality and seeing those with the condition as sinners,” he said.
Banjoko also stated that the legal violations of the rights of persons living with HIV, Banjoko should be addressed.
“Ordinarily, everyone has the right to confidentiality about their health issues.
“But, I know that a lot of companies are still discriminating against persons with HIV.
“They may not even discuss it with you. It is part of their recruitment process, they will screen you and if they find that you are positive, they will drop you. That is real discrimination.
“Some schools are also doing it as part of their screening. That’s why I said we need more education as their behaviour is influenced by lack of education of the viral disease,” Banjoko said.
According to the World Health Organisation, HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed almost 33 million lives so far.
However, with increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives, WHO said.
The global health body also stated that there were an estimated 38.0 million people living with HIV at the end of 2019, noting that as a result of concerted international efforts to respond to HIV, coverage of services has been steadily increasing.
“In 2019, 68 per cent of adults and 53 per cent of children living with HIV globally were receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy.
“Over two-thirds of all people living with HIV live in the WHO African Region (25.7 million).
“While HIV is prevalent among the general population in this region, an increasing number of new infections occur among key population groups,” WHO said.
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