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Blogging Positively: Combatting the Stigma of HIV Testing

Categories: Blogging Positively, Feature

Director's Note: As part of Rising Voices’ “Blogging Positively” initiative, we will be featuring some of the most interesting examples of citizen media from around the world related to the issue of HIV/AIDS. Please share in the comments section any other examples of citizen media that we may include in the next roundup.

Around the globe, World AIDS Day was recently observed on December 1, 2010, and some bloggers took the opportunity to focus on the stigma that remains in their countries. For some, it is frustrating to see how others are treated because of their positive status. Egyptian blogger Zeyad Salem writes about how other Egyptians should not be quick to judge and that those who are HIV-positive should be [1] “treated as humans that got a disease just like any other and not some devious beings that deserve what they have earned from their actions.” He continues:

We are all humans seeking to be heard, to be accepted, to matter, and by holding the stigma against HIV we are depriving other humans from the right of seeking help, getting tested or at least be heard, by sticking to the stigma of HIV we are losing our battle against it, we are silencing people’s prayers to be heard and believe me one day you will be in their position not necessarily diagnosed with HIV but may be by being in a place where you are the different one and be treated accordingly so the fight against AIDS is more the fight against discrimination in all forms.

Stigma can be seen in many instances within the issue of HIV/AIDS, and one place that it becomes a major factor is when it comes time for testing and the subsequent results. In Uganda, Linda Lilian of the Key Correspondents citizen journalism program spoke to workers at a local testing center to ask about how they have seen stigma affect the community [2]. She spoke to Evanis Kalawka, a nurse, who said that many women avoid revealing their positive status to their spouse because of the consequences, which includes being “beaten by men who say the woman has brought the problem into the home.”

One strategy that some people have used to help reduce the stigma of testing has been the use of citizen media to explore the experience of taking the HIV test. The South African online project Fly the Flag Fridays [3] was invited by 20 year-old Dylan Nyembo of Randburg to document his decision to take the HIV test as part of the national government's HIV counseling and testing campaign (HCT) on World AIDS Day. In this video, Nyembo discusses his apprehension, but also his understanding that a positive result does not mean “the end of your life.” The video also shows Nyembo receiving the negative results, and the relief that comes with those results. He adds that knowing one's status is good for the community and how it reaffirms what he needs to do to remain HIV-negative.

In South Africa, youth from the iSchool Africa [4] project from Wynberg High School learned more about the program called Tutu Testers [5], a project of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. By conducting interviews of the staff of this community health outreach project, the youth filmed this short news clip about the testing and counseling program:

Finally, 16-year-old Amanda from the Students for Humanity project in the Thembisa township in Johannesburg, South Africa recently wrote a blog posting about her first HIV test [6]. Even though she is not considered high risk, she felt that it was important to take the test just in case. In the post she highlights her nervousness and the atmosphere in the testing center, “it was like I was in a judgement room – like a decision was being made that I was either going to hell or heaven.” Her result was negative, and she adds that it is important for others to know their status because it can also affect their loved ones:

There are many people who are living with this disease and some of them live longer than those who are not HIV positive. People should accept the fact that this disease is out there, it’s a killer disease and it’s waiting for you to take that wrong step into having unprotected sex or any other kind of recklessness. People should start taking this killer disease seriously and have one partner that loves them, a partner who will never kill you with this disease.