Activists combat stigma, discrimination against HIV sufferers
From The Daily Star
On the eve of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, a local awareness and prevention group has launched a campaign to combat the social stigma and discriminatory practices associated with the deadly virus.
The Lebanon National AIDS Control Program kicked off a two-day exposition Friday at the Order of Physicians headquarters in Furn al-Shubbak to promote awareness of the disease.
The exposition, attended by many UN agencies, popular committees, the Lebanese Red Cross, the Health Ministry and the Social Affairs Ministry, was preceded by a conference on the “discrimination and stigma” that often target AIDS victims.
Addressing the conference, program president Moustafa al-Naqib said that AIDS-related discrimination should be “abolished in our society.”
According to a report by the UN joint program on HIV and AIDS, “discrimination occurs when a distinction is made against a person that results in his or her being treated unfairly and unjustly on the basis of their belonging, or their perceived belonging, to a particular group.”Naqib said employers may terminate a worker’s employment on the grounds of his or her HIV positive status.
“Discrimination leads to silence, exclusion, isolation and feelings of worthlessness, which limit people’s ability to provide the care and services needed by people living with HIV,” he said.
Naqib said silence and isolation are also harmful, because they keep the disease “hidden,” which increases transmission to “unaffected” people.
He told The Daily Star that “discrimination constitutes a problem, because nowadays people with HIV or AIDS can live up to 20 years, but if they are not treated by the concerned parties and the community, they may face additional illnesses.”
Naqib said all hospitals here accept HIV-positive patients, but when AIDS is in its last phases, patients are only accepted in private hospitals, where improved equipment can be found.
According to a survey by the Lebanon National AIDS Control Program for 2002, 697 people have been reported as having full-blown AIDS, and another 300 as being only HIV-positive.
Regarding AIDS transmission, the report said 68.4 percent of the reported cases have been transmitted though sexual intercourse, 7.3 percent by infected blood, 6.2 percent due to drug use and 16.3 percent from unidentified sources. It added that 47.9 percent of people living with HIV and AIDS here contracted the virus while traveling.
Bahij Arbid, representing Health Minister Suleiman Franjieh, said that prevention should top the national agenda. “National efforts to develop an accurate understanding of the epidemic, its nature and its causes, have been working on promoting public awareness, particularly in universities and schools,” he said.
In addition to such efforts, Arbid said the government wants to oblige couples to undertake an AIDS test before being granted marriage licenses, in an attempt to “reveal” AIDS and HIV-infected citizens.
Fighting AIDS transmission should be the subject of cooperation between “popular committees, official administrations, nongovernmental organizations and local unions,” Arbid said. He added that forming a “specialized technical committee” would contribute to the establishment of an improved strategy, which follows local, regional and international developments.
On the issue of stigma and discrimination, the World Health Organization’s representative in Lebanon, Habib al-Outeiri, said that “such (practices) contradict our cultural values,” and violate the human rights of people living with AIDS.
“Those people have been segregated in schools and hospitals,” he said, “and are rejected by their communities, particularly in the workplace.” Outeiri asserted that “widespread and enduring changes in social attitudes are required if headway is to be made against AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.”