HIV/Aids: To overcome all other stigmas, fighting self-stigma is the first step

By Saumu Jumanne

HIV/Aids is still one of the most challenging subject to be discussed at the family level for many households across Africa. Maybe, because sex in almost all African cultures is associated with taboos and primarily HIV/Aids is transmitted through it. That is why it’s sometimes challenging to talk about it.

No matter how well prepared one is for a HIV test, especially for expectant mothers of whom the test is mandatory, you can always read fear in the faces of those waiting for the results.

Available policy documents indicate that in Tanzania back in 1983 only about three cases of HIV/Aids were reported in the Kagera region. With time the number has risen to nearly 2 million throughout Tanzania.

There was a time family used to refuse to take care of their members who had HIV/Aids. This disease was known as the most deadly disease, and stigmatizing the victims was real. Some families even refused to bury the victims after their time on earth was over. It has been a long journey by governments and civil society advocating for humane treatment of those who have HIV/Aids.

That is why stakeholders at the global level have set aside December 1st as the World HIV/Aids Day. The day aims to create awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. The day is also used to remember those who have died of related causes.


For years the viral disease has been incurable, though lots of advances have been made to make it manageable. A few years ago in Tanzania, it was seen as more of a death sentence than anything else if one was diagnosed with that disease. Today, things have changed, and those with the condition can lead better lives, and society does not stigmatize them openly.

In our society today we have adults whom were born with HIV/Aids. They have grown up and lead a normal life, only that they have to take ARVs. We have women living with HIV/AIDS by giving birth to children who are HIV/Aids free. These are significant advancements.

However, we are not out of the woods yet. According to “the HIV prevalence among adult aged 15 – 49 rate for both men and women declined from 7 percent in 2003/04 to 5.3 percent in 2011/12 for Tanzania mainland.”

Country progress report for Tanzania on Global AIDS Monitoring 2020 estimated about 58,000 new HIV infections, with 6,500 being infections among children below 15-year-old.

HIV Stigma Index (Tanzania not included) indicates that in over 70 countries globally, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV is real, with one in eight people living with HIV being denied health services.

In essence, stigma is still a problem. And it makes people living with HIV fear disclosing their status, getting tested, getting care and treatment. Note that fear fuels new infections.

For instance, if one of the partners is not faithful in the marriage, once s/he is infected and fear disclosing the information to his/her partner, new infection is spreads.

It is unfortunate that children in HIV affected households also face stigma. Sometimes they are badly treated by their extended families. As we think of HIV, we must be accommodative and, as a nation, be able to explore stigma and how greatly it hurts people living with HIV.

In dealing with HIV, we have public stigma, perceived stigma, stigma by association, structural stigma and health practitioner stigma. Dealing with all these sometimes at the same time can never be easy. Then there is the question of self-stigma, which is very destructive. It is about blaming yourself for the condition, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, inferior etc. To overcome all other stigmas, fighting self-stigma is the first step.

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