Stigmatization as a Preventative of HIV/AIDS
For some time now there has been a public outcry and many views have been expressed on the issue of stigmatization of HIV patients/victims. It has been assumed that stigmatization can facilitate the speed with which HIV kills its victims. Can this really be the case? Many of us have suffered at the hands of stigmatization but has this killed us? Malaria is one of the fastest killing diseases in Ghana, but are malaria victims stigmatized? No. Then why should stigma be accused? About 1.5% of people in Ghana are HIV positive, and over 60% of these victim contracted HIV through sexual intercourse. Can stigmatization actually not help to prevent people from getting HIV?
There are many diseases being stigmatized, but HIV has one of the highest rates. In Ghana, HIV victims are insulted, teased, bullied and being gossiped about. Friends and family can walk away from them and leave them isolated. Can science tell us the rate at which a victim is being stigmatized? No. Is it possible that words or attitudes of a person towards an HIV victim can hasten the death of a HIV positive individual? I think it unlikely. It is in fact likely that stigmatization educates others on the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
Ghanaians stigmatize HIV victims because some religions have the belief that HIV is a punishment for people who have done wrong. In Ghana some religions believe that since HIV/AIDS is said to be incurable by scientists, a person who has contracted this disease is seen to have done something abominable to his/her god or object of worship. Secondly, Ghanaians also stigmatize because this awful disease is mostly associated with basically unaccepted behaviors such as prostitution. Over 60% of HIV victims contract the disease through sexual intercourse. When a person is HIV positive he/she might have contracted it through bad habits. Adwoa Menu from central region, who is in her late twenties, told me her story and how she had the disease. She was very ambitious and from a poor family and wanted to make money at all costs. So she took to prostitution and made it. Her friends perceived that if she was able to make it through prostitution they will also join, but she became very sick and tested positive to HIV. However, her HIV status never discouraged any of her friends from joining her lucrative business. Her community got to know about her status and stigmatized her. She stated that this stigma made her to take a serious decision, which is to discourage every youth with the aim of making quick money. So if stigma kills faster than AIDS why would she have taken these decisions? Without stigmatization, promiscuity would be seen as a normal way of life.
Kofi Ajie, a driver from Accra, in his late 30s, told me that when he was a teen he lost both parents and as a teen his only means of survival was stealing. But when his community got to know of this, he was insulted, and even his closed friends, nephews, nieces refused to get close to him. They also refused to accept anything from him so he decided to learn a trade no matter what it would take him. Today he is a driver. Has stigma not done a good job?
Victims who are stigmatized feel bad and wished time will have reversed itself so that they wouldn't have to repeat that mistake. When people see victims being stigmatized they try their best not to get effected with an awful disease like AIDS so this helps to reduce the rate at which the disease spreads.
In 1999, Ghana's treatment on HIV patients was 16.5 billion (old Cedis). If this large amount were to be invested in agriculture, education, road construction etc, Ghana wouldn’t have been a developing country. There is an adage that little drops of water make a mighty ocean; for example. my economics teacher, Mr. Gyijojo, told me that if I save as little as 20pesewas everyday for 10 years I could build a house or create a firm with that money. Therefore if the cost of treatment on HIV had been used efficiently Ghana would be a developed country by now.
So let us not blame stigma for killing faster than HIV/AIDS. Moreover stigmatization can help use attain our better "Ghanaian agenda". If people are being stigmatized it will reduce the rate of transition. Ghana would use less money for the treatment of these victims and the rest would be used to develop Ghana.