Gossip fuelling HIV/AIDS stigma in Malawi

Malawi’s health workers are good gossipers and this is derailing efforts to curb HIV and AIDS related stigma and discrimination, Nyasa Times  has learnt.

The development has made people either to default on treatment or seek treatment in other districts or regions, according to medical experts.

“Even before one reaches home, news of one’s sero status would have preceded him or her arrival. Stigma and discrimination are enemies of public health because they prevent people from disclosing their status,” said Dr. Nicodeme Ekwala Mubiala, HIV and AIDS Programme Supervisor for the northern region.

Dr. Mubiala singled out support staff working in health establishments such as Clerks, Patient and Ward attendants as the main culprits because of their lack of etiquette.

Mubiala: No confidentiality

He said this during a round table discussion on stigma and discrimination in the context of rights issues held in Mzuzu on Tuesday with the theme: “Attitudes of health personnel: tackling stigma and discrimination in people living with HIV and AIDS”

“Of course, we are having a series of courses with these cadres so that we can see change but two weeks of counselling course is not enough,” Mubiala said.

He said although stigma and discrimination has been there even before the advent of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, the problem is that some people want preferential treatment.

“Some people want to use their titles, class or status and that is wrong because we are all equal,”. Mubiala said.

Lillian Dindi Kumwenda, who has lived with HIV for 16 years, said stigma and discrimination has caused people either to commit suicide or die prematurely.

Kumwenda, who is a renowned HIV Activist, agreed that some health workers were indeed good gossipers saying they concluded or assumed one’s status based on physical appearance.

“That is wrong and totally unethical because one would suffering, for instance from cancer, diabetes or other ailments,” she said.

Kumwenda then took a blast at support staff such as Patient and Ward attendants saying many are working in heath establishments because they have nowhere to go.

Mzuzu District HIV and AIDS Coordinator Felix Namakhuwa said patients have rights regardless of status.

“But we should also realise that Health workers also have rights which are fully protected as well,” said Namakhuwa.

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