CAPE VERDE: Tuning out - stigma silences HIV-positive people

Photo: Sony
Turned off by stigma
PRAIA, 17 May 2007 (PlusNews) - "They've even offered me money to do it, but I'm not prepared to sell my dignity," said 42-year-old Daniel Delgado, explaining why he would not go on television to talk about being HIV-positive.

"I don't think we're in a country that is ready for this. For me, as an HIV-positive person, I come first, then my family, then my friends and then my work," he stressed. "Those people who show their face on TV can be negatively affected, there's still a lot of stigma in Cape Verde."

Delgado, who returned home to the small chain of islands off the West African coast four years ago, after living abroad for many years, is one of a small number of Cape Verdians open about being HIV-positive; but has decided not to publicise his status through TV appearances.

"Wherever I am in Cape Verde or in the world, I accept my HIV-positive status. But imagine if everyone knew, it would make it a bit hard for me to live; Cape Verde is a small country and we don't have anywhere to hide," he said. "This thing about going on TV doesn't work for me. Maybe one day it will, but definitely not now."

The experience of 22-year-old Samira Fernandes, who did appear on television talking about living with HIV, goes a long way to explaining why Delgado and others are not prepared to take that step.

She was encouraged to appear after Ze Rocha, an HIV-positive man who died earlier this year, became the first Cape Verdian to disclose on TV. Members of a now defunct association for HIV-positive people that Ze Rocha had set up, persuaded Fernandes that she could help the cause of people living with the virus if she followed suit.

"They convinced me of the importance of being the first woman to show her face on TV. People thought someone who had HIV would be skinny and sick. I wanted to prove that wasn't the case," she explained.

"They also gave me guarantees that I would receive help if I went on TV, they convinced me about the benefits for me and for Cape Verde. But I was deluded, none of that happened," she added.

Paying the price

In the three years since her first television appearance, Fernandes has been forced to move house six times, was denied access to the kitchen and bathroom in those homes, and has been unable to find long-term work or start her own business.

She has finally managed to find relative comfort in the house she now shares with several other people in the small town of Assomada, a 45-minute car journey from the capital, Praia.

Her housemates know she is HIV-positive and do not discriminate against her. But she is not sure how long she will be able to stay there as she is several months late in paying her rent and is still out of work. Because of the psychological and financial pressures she is under, Fernandes's daughter - who is not infected with the virus - is currently living with her mother.

Small country, low prevalence

Cape Verde's first HIV case was registered in 1986 and the prevalence rate among the 450,000 population stands at 0.8 percent. Some say stigma is worse here because AIDS is not seen as a problem on the same scale as most other African countries.

"AIDS is not a banal thing here in Cape Verde. People don't want to go public about being HIV-positive because they fear they will be singled out for being different," commented Artur Correia, executive secretary of the Praia-based Committee of Coordination and Combat of AIDS (CCS-Sida).

"Cape Verde is different to countries where there are a lot of HIV-positive people. In those, more people will show their face and the stigmatisation will be lower," he added.

''Usually people look at someone who is HIV-positive as if they were disabled and worth nothing ... I walk in the rain and the sun like everybody else''
The government says it is serious about tackling the epidemic and stigma attached to it. A new law being drawn up and including several clauses linked to discrimination and the rights of HIV-positive people is scheduled for parliamentary approval in the first half of this year.

There has also been a massive drive to sensitise people about the virus and how to avoid its transmission; messages some have heard loud and clear.

"I don't think we should be afraid of HIV, I think we should just take necessary precautions so that it isn't transmitted," said 16-year-old Stevan Santos.

"If we are afraid, we will automatically fear an infected person who is close to us and that isn't right. There's no problem living with someone with HIV/AIDS. On the contrary, it's important to show solidarity," he added.

Delgado has also suffered from discrimination, particularly when it has involved trying to find employment. Despite the difficulties, he is prepared to share his experiences with others to try and help slow the spread of the virus.

He is now working with the women's advocacy NGO Morabi on sensitisation campaigns all over Sao Tiago, the main island of the archipelago, giving lectures, offering support, distributing condoms and is also hoping to start a regular radio show on a station in his neighbourhood of Santa Cruz.

But he believes a lot more action is needed on the ground if stigma in Cape Verde is to be seriously challenged.

"Usually people look at someone who is HIV-positive as if they were disabled and worth nothing. I don't agree - I walk in the rain and the sun like everybody else," said Delgado.

"I would like to see more people working in the field, directly with people who are infected and affected by AIDS. Most organisations just want to receive funds and say beautiful things on TV ... I've been hearing the same music every day. I'm bored with it."


Theme (s): Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

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

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