Stopping the stigma around HIV and AIDS - Refugee Council
December 18, 2009

Stopping the stigma around HIV and AIDS

By Alain Munyangabe, Training and Development Support Officer for the Basis Project

Back in March, refugee agencies and other voluntary sector organisations spoke out against the injustice of the Court of Appeal’s overruling of the High Court decision that refused asylum seekers should be able to access free NHS care whilst in the UK.

This ruling, of course, affects people with HIV and AIDS, and last Saturday I attended an event organised as part of World Aids Day by the Centre for All Families Positive Health in Luton for the launch of their ‘STOP HIV/AIDS STIGMA’ campaign. They are a charity that gives HIV related advice and support to refugees and asylum seekers and other members of the community.

I arrived in time to see some young girls presenting a play about the stigma endured by those living with people with HIV and AIDS. In the play, one girl was bullied and shunned because her classmates found out that her mother had HIV/AIDS.

Another girl in the play (one of the bullies) told her parents how the other schoolmates had treated her classmate, but the girl was shocked to find out that her own mother and father were suffering from the condition too. It was a moving experience and the play creatively raised awareness around HIV and its transmission.

 This stigmatisation made me think of how asylum seekers avoid disclosing their immigration status for fear of being judged, as the press often portrays them as scroungers or blames them for spreading AIDS.

 When an asylum seeker/ refugee has HIV/AIDS it must be a double blow. This stigmatisation might stop the individual from being tested or seeking medical help – fearing that they could be singled out. The stigma is often more serious than the condition itself.

At the event, a testimony was given by a woman who has been living with HIV for the last 21 years. She told the audience that she is not planning to die; instead she is planning for her old age. She informed us that from next month, the USA will no longer ask any individuals to disclose their HIV status before issuing a visa.  So, some progress is definitely being made.