By Joyce Mukucha
Despite decades of scientific advances in prevention and treatment, as well as widespread awareness-raising efforts, irrational fears of HIV infection and negative attitudes towards people living with HIV (PLWHIV) continue to be rampant and are a persistent barrier to addressing the epidemic.
Realising how bad and different PLWHIV are treated be it in schools, church, workplace, family among other places, a Midlands State University Development Studies student who is passionate about discussing issues to do with HIV and AIDS, Pride Muvishi noted with concern the exacerbation of discrimination and is striving to ensure that students are at the forefront of eliminating the mistreatment.
In an interview with Spiked Online Media, Muvishi highlighted the importance and impact students can have in challenging the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS as he indicated that it takes understanding, education, and a closer look by students at attitudes towards the disease.
Muvishi stressed that there is a need for each and every student enrolled with various universities in Zimbabwe to commit to making positive changes in families and communities, schools, and the nation as a whole to help eradicate HIV stigma and discrimination.
“University students have a crucial role to play towards ending stigma and discrimination against HIV and AIDS. They must work together to provide safe and nurturing environments for the affected population.
“I think as students, we have to participate in something that gives life a better meaning. Students ought to take part in the participation of various clubs, volunteering projects, peer educational groups among other clubs that have to do with discrimination of people with HIV and AIDS nor any other problem because they would learn more from that and they would make someone’s life better. It might not be a thousand but for that one person it would make a difference,” he said.
He said it is important for government, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, and other relevant stakeholders to work collectively and ensure that universities are well funded to have the tools and knowledge to provide support for PLWHIV who are suffering the consequences of discrimination.
“Government and Non-Governmental organisations together with other partners should work hand-in-glove in disbursing funds that are aimed at enhancing colleges and universities’ capacity to fight against stigma. When students are funded, it is my suggestion that they embark on trips visiting various places across the country especially the marginalised communities educating and advocating about the importance of ending stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV,” said Muvishi.
It is imperative, he pointed out, for each and every university to have a compulsory HIV and AIDS module which is aimed at ensuring that every student is equipped with knowledge that will enable him/her to have confidence when it comes to talking about eradicating HIV stigma as well as imparting critical knowledge in communities.
“I suggest that an HIV/AIDS-related module which focuses more on stigma and discrimination is introduced in every university. This will help students to articulate issues to do with HIV to wherever places they feel it’s important to discuss it. In the same way, there should be a module for Gender and Development in all facilities that eradicate the discrimination of HIV and AIDS.
“This will enable students to make concerted efforts in stopping HIV stigma and give voice to people living with HIV, as well as their friends and family.”
Organisations, he indicated, that focus on HIV/AIDS should also work tirelessly in extending unwavering support to universities in as much as eliminating stigma is concerned.
“Then the second thing is to get organizations that focus on HIV and AIDS, like SafAIDS, UNICEF, ZNNP+, National AIDS council, DAPP among others. I think they should make more effort to educate the students in other universities get them to see that HIV and AIDS is not a reason for discrimination. In doing so, it will lead the students to end the stigma and discrimination by accepting and taking charge in doing better amongst themselves.”
Through campaigns, Muvishi said, students, can manage to call on everyone to work together to stop HIV stigma as well as try and bring people together and initiate discussions on HIV and AIDS and make sure that participants share their stories.
“As students, we can join hands through the support from partners, well-wishers, and donors across the country to recommit to our efforts and resources to ensure that youth know how to protect PLWHIV from experiencing discrimination.”
Muvishi added that supporting university students to eliminate stigma and discrimination in all their forms is fundamental to achieving the Agenda for Sustainable Development’s promise of leaving no one behind and reaching the sustainable development goals and targets by 2030.
Through support and funding, Muvishi said, students would be able to provide sexual health education, health services, and safe and supportive school environments for all students, and can make a difference to help end the HIV epidemic.
Pertaining reaching rural communities with programs aimed at ending stigma, Muvishi highlighted the importance of respecting people’s culture and traditions but at the same time making sure that they learn something and become willing to participate in ending stigma.
Evaluations, he added, need to be done so as to assess the effectiveness of the campaigns and projects to identify gaps and lacking areas so as to design solutions to cover the discovered gaps.
“I think inorder for rural communities to be reached, students, government and other organisations need to carry out extensive campaigns in these areas in a bid to educate them and also come with solutions that cater for these situations since they do differ from one individual to the next.
“After carrying out these campaigns or projects, it can be noted that follow-ups are normally neglected and l believe this is something that needs to be taken seriously.”
“If we are honest, the government has done what it can do, the organisations have been also working on their side but there is still more that needs to be pushed for. Both of them should collaborate to work together in doing follow-ups and come up with more means of educating the rural people without affecting their tradition and their culture. Disrespecting traditions is a major reason why some people in the rural areas tend not to participate in what the government and the organisations will be teaching the people, thus the need to rectify on that area.”
Being asked how he started spearheading HIV and AIDS discussions, Muvishi said he began it during his industrial internship in August 2019 before he actually noticed that he had to be more serious and become dedicated in December 2020 since he was learning more about HIV and AIDS stigma on his side.
“During the period I was at the campus I never made much effort to ensure that the stigma and discrimination of HIV are eliminated. When I was on attachment, doing online classes gave me quality time to see some of the staff that affects the people in our surrounding community face to the point that right now, I am trying to do all that I can manage to do, and being a volunteer at Redcross Zimbabwe helping out when there is some reach out projects.”
Mostly, Muvishi participates in all HIV/AIDS education groups trying to get and see what other people face in their daily living.
“I believe that through participating and giving my own opinions, people can change and can spread the word out of how discrimination of people with HIV and AIDS is a major problem.
“I l want to be more involved in the programs that have to do with HIV and AIDS nor any other problem that has to do with discrimination.”
He highlighted that people tend to just think that discrimination is only in race but it also affects the ones with HIV and AIDS which is why he is more passionate in doing all he can in helping through teaching people with what he knows and also getting to know more through them.
According to the UNAIDS landmark 2012 report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, governments were urged to promote laws and policies that are grounded in evidence and human rights.
The 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS recognized the HIV epidemic as a human rights challenge.
It expresses grave concern that stigma and discrimination continue to be reported and that restrictive legal and policy frameworks continue to discourage and prevent people from accessing HIV services.
The report further reveal that discrimination in health-care settings is one of the major obstacles to ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.
“However, beyond the health-care sector, HIV-related stigma and discrimination are found in every area of social life, from inside families and communities to educational and workplace settings, and within the justice system. HIV-related stigma and discrimination are also exacerbated during humanitarian disasters and in emergency settings,” the report revealed.
The UNAIDS report further indicates that in 19 countries with available data, 25% of people living with HIV report experiencing some form of discrimination in health-care settings People living with HIV who perceive high levels of HIV-related stigma are 2.4 times more likely to delay enrolment in care until they are very ill.
“In 19 countries with available data, approximately one in three women living with HIV report experiencing at least one form of discrimination related to their sexual and reproductive health in health-care settings, such as a denial of services or discouragement from having children by health-care professionals because of their HIV status, and even forced sterilization.”
Breaking down HIV-related stigma and ending discrimination against people living with HIV, said UNAIDS, are critically important because they prevent people from seeking HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services.