by Pamenus Tuso | The Zimbabwean
Despite years of hard work by government agencies, NGOs and community groups, youths living with HIV and AIDS are still stigmatised at school and in their communities.
HIV positive youths who spoke to The Zimbabwean strictly on condition of anonymity said stigma and discrimination continue to prevent them from accessing readily available HIV and AIDS support services.
An HIV positive girl studying at the Midlands State University (MSU) said stigmatisation has become rife at the university where she said HIV positive students were mocked and given nicknames.
“Most HIV positive students like myself keeps our status as a secret because the moment you reveal it to other students you will be ridiculed. For example, in my class there is a clique of students who are in the habit of referring to HIV positive people as cell phones and ARVs as airtime cards.
Every morning you hear them shouting please please do not forget to juice your cell phones – a reference to us,” she said. Positive youths, especially girls, face numerous challenges when it comes to dating.
“Like anybody else we all have normal sexual feelings and wishes to be married. HIV positive girls face a serious dilemma because if you try to be honest and reveal your status to your partner he will run way from you. If you keep it a secret, you have a problem again because the partner does not want to use a condom,” she said.
Another HIV student from a local secondary school in the city regretted confiding her HIV status to one of her friends. “Everyone at the school is now aware of my status. The other day a group of boys asked me to show them what ARVs looks like. I am now an outcast at the school,” she said.
Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) Bulawayo chairperson, Anderson Ndlovu, said his organisation is worried about the high incidence of stigmatisation among students in educational institutions.
“Our HIV/AIDS intervention programmes have tended to exclude the youths. This anomaly has unfortunately created gaps in knowledge and great stigma – not only in colleges but even in communities where the youths live. The stigma is even worse in incidences where both parents have died,” said Ndlovu.
His organisation has embarked on various HIV and AIDS campaign programmes in the city. “In this campaign we are targeting both the affected and those youths who think they are in the comfort zone. We launched this campaign at Ndlovu Youth Centre in Tshabalala high density suburb. During the launch, some HIV positive youths gave testimonies about their experiences. We want to break the silence among youths regarding HIV,” he said.