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First-hand: stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV in Zimbabwe

Tonderai Mwareka as told to Tinashe Madamombe 

29 August 2023

Tonderai Mwareka from Zimbabwe National Network of People living with HIV (ZNNP+) talks about HIV stigma and the barriers this creates to vital HIV services

Tonderai Mwareka
Tonderai Mwareka

HIV stigma and discrimination in Zimbabwe is a major challenge that prevents people from accessing HIV prevention, treatment, and care services. People living with HIV in Zimbabwe often face social exclusion, denial of employment, housing, and education, and even violence. 

Devastating impact of HIV stigma 

We know that people avoid going to HIV health care services because they fear the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. In some clinics, there are different queues for people accessing HIV services and those accessing general services. This kind of practice has meant people living with HIV are avoiding these services as they fear judgement and exclusion from their community.  

I have witnessed the devastating impact of HIV stigma. This shows itself in many ways. Many people living with HIV have internalised the stigma – meaning it has become so deep rooted, that they begin to stigmatise themselves. They might withdraw from various social and community gatherings, lose their self-confidence, and start feeling unworthy to live. 

People with HIV are also often afraid to share their HIV status with others for fear of being discriminated against. This fear leads to isolation, loneliness, depression, and other mental health issues. Without a support network, people often struggle with adherence to their HIV treatment, which puts their physical health at risk too. 

A rallying cry against HIV stigma 

That’s why at ZNNP+ we’ve recently produced the Zimbabwe Stigma Index 2.0. This is a framework developed by and for people living with HIV. The report follows on from research conducted in 2014. Unfortunately, the findings show an increase rather than decrease of levels of stigma. In 2014, 65% of people living with HIV reported experiencing one or more forms of stigma and discrimination. In 2022, this had risen to 69.7%. A sad indication of the challenge we still face. 

Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV is not only detrimental to people’s health and happiness, they are a violation of human rights and a major barrier to achieving an AIDS-free world. We need policy and action to reduce stigma and discrimination, and the report makes a number of recommendations. These include; strengthening the legal framework to protect people living with HIV from stigma and discrimination, engaging civil society and the government to carry out education and awareness-raising activities on HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination, provide more support to people living with HIV-led organizations which are currently working to address these issues. 

Overall, the report encourages the deliberate investment in stigma and discrimination reduction strategies and forms a rallying cry for us all to work together to create communities that embrace and support people living with HIV. I hope this cry will be heard far and wide in Zimbabwe and beyond. 

The Zimbabwe Stigma Index 2.0 was produced in collaboration with the Southern African HIV/AIDS Information Dissemination Services (SAfAIDS), UNAIDS Zimbabwe, National AIDS Council, Ministry of Health, Child Care, Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), PEPFAR, CDC, and USAID. 

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