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SOMALIA: Let's talk about HIV stigma

Many in Somalia still consider HIV to be an illness caused by sexual immorality
GAROWE, 12 August 2010 (PlusNews) - In conservative Somali culture, discussions about HIV are frowned upon, but four young people recently broke with tradition to speak to IRIN about their experience of living with the virus.

"I always thought that anyone with the disease is like a dying person or worthless," Hangade Hufane Ambad, who weighed just 40kg when he was diagnosed with HIV, told IRIN Radio.

He said his experience of discrimination began at the hospital, shortly after he tested positive.

"I was left out under a tree at the Garowe TB hospital [in the capital of Somali's northeastern self-declared autonomous region of Puntland]. Everybody was afraid of getting the disease if he or she touched me. The horror... was caused by doctors... because they are unskilled and they don't have knowledge of the disease [HIV]."

Today, Ambad is on anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs and weighs nearly 100kg. "When you are HIV-positive, the drug matters and that is how life can be better when living with the disease," he said.

Jamado Darbaal Dolaal's experience at a voluntary counselling and testing service was more positive; she was told that on medication she could live a long and healthy life. The discrimination came from a much closer source - her own family.

"I felt [like it was a] punishment as I was discriminated against by my own family, who gave me separate housing and utensils... whenever I cooked food alone I could not eat because I was feeling lonely or neglected," she said. "I decided to leave my family because the problem I couldn't solve was the perception that I would spread the disease."

''I decided to leave my family because the problem I couldn't solve was the perception that I would spread the disease''
Dolaal now lives in Garowe, where she has not told anyone her status. "I feel safe as I am no longer in the place where everyone used to point a finger at me," she said.

Alamo Dubad Dhiidhiin was kicked out of her house and abandoned by her sister when she discovered her status. "I encountered segregation from every person and I was hated by everyone - it was my relatives who were most critical," she said.

According to the 2010 country progress report for Somalia prepared for the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, stigma leads to non-disclosure among a large proportion of HIV-positive Somalis who need care and support.

Overcoming discrimination

A 2008 Knowledge Attitudes Behaviour and Practice survey, conducted by the Social Development and Research Association in Puntland's Mudug region, showed that 77 percent of respondents were against HIV-positive people teaching in schools while 85 percent reported their unwillingness to buy food from an HIV-positive food vendor; one in four considered people with HIV immoral.

The young Somalis IRIN/PlusNews interviewed said building awareness and integrating HIV-positive people into society was the only way to conquer stigma and discrimination.

More on stigma
 Taboo reinforces ignorance about HIV
 Halima*, "You find out very quickly who your friends are"
 HIV carries moral stigma - report
 The challenge of stigma - radio report
"We are always vulnerable to those who have less knowledge of the disease," said Dhiidhiin, whose friends still refuse to shake hands with her because they are afraid of contracting HIV.

"There is no awareness in our community and all this has sparked how they behave," said Dolaal. "People need HIV awareness campaigns and training to know this is a disease which can't be transmitted by shaking hands, eating food together or talking to a person."

Faagte Qordhere Qumane, also living with HIV in Puntland, said integration must include allowing HIV-positive people to hold jobs like everybody else. "We are not different from the ordinary people, we can run businesses or hold jobs," he said. "We only need an environment where our people would not be discriminated against for being HIV-positive.

"Furthermore, we can be a good example for others if we... stand up to raise awareness in our community because we [have] felt the most painful segregation and we cannot allow others to feel the stigma [we have] felt," he added.

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*All names have been changed

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Education, Health & Nutrition, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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