Last year, a primary school teacher in Masaka, Florence Najjumba, lost her job after she declared that she was HIV-positive.
Had the media and Uganda Human Rights Commission not intervened, Najjumba would have lost her livelihood. Yet she is only one of the luckier ones. According to the People Living with HIV Stigma Index, 2013, most HIV-positive people are still discriminated against at work.
The study, released last week by the National Forum of People Living with HIV Networks in Uganda (Nafophanu), surveyed 1,110 people living with HIV.
“[Some] 255 of the people living with HIV reported losing jobs or incomes within the past year preceding the survey and 27 per cent of these attributed it to [their] HIV status,” reads the study report.
Among those that reported losing their jobs, more than half were men. Some 288 reported that their job descriptions had changed due to a combination of factors, including poor health.
Some were discriminated against at work by either co-workers or employers. Eight percent of the respondents reported that they had been barred from work in the previous 12 months.
Supported by UNAIDS and Uganda Aids Commission, Nafophanu conducted the survey in 18 districts.
“This stigma prevents people from getting tested for HIV, seeking medical care and adherence to treatment and follow-up. A biased attitude towards people living with HIV must be stopped,” said Stella Kentusi, Nafophanu executive director.
Consequently, the study states that income levels among people living with HIV are relatively low, with 60 per cent of those surveyed earning less than Shs 250,000 every month.
Gossiping, according to the survey, was the most prevalent form of stigma, with 60 per cent (666) of people living with HIV, convinced that they had been gossiped about at least once within the previous year. Also, nearly one in five of the surveyed people said they had been subjected to psychological pressure or manipulation by their husband or wife at least once.
Some 21 percent said they had experienced sexual rejection at least once in the last 12 months before the survey. About 10 per cent had been excluded from family activities such as eating together or sharing rooms.
The study suggests fear of stigma and discrimination are major reasons why people are unlikely to declare their status in public, let alone taking an HIV test.
“This means that disclosure is done selectively or not done at all. People are not free to seek and take up treatment,” Kentusi says, adding that victims of stigma soon develop internal stigma – negative feelings about oneself.
UNAIDS Country Director Musa Bungudu says to reduce such stigma and discrimination, people living with HIV should enjoy economic empowerment and receive updated education about HIV.
Bungudu proposes “a cascade of training of trainers workshops” not only to address attitudes and practices but also to meet information needs and HIV-related supplies.
On his part, the acting programme manager, Aids Control Programme, Dr Joshua Musinguzi, wants more resources dedicated towards access to anti-retroviral drugs for all HIV-positive people.
Today, 566,000 people have access to ARVs out of the 745,000 expected to be put on treatment by the end of this year.
“We need to disseminate the findings to the lowest level so that the health ministry and stakeholders may roll out programmes, reducing new infections and fighting for the rights of people living with HIV effectively, efficiently and transparently,” Musinguzi says.