Despite strides being made on the science front when it comes to the treatment of HIV, activists say stigma remains a big problem in communities.
Over a hundred Khayelitsha residents, activists, and members of civil society organisations celebrated achievements in combating HIV/Aids and commemorated those who have died of the disease. The World Aids Day event which was held at Desmond Tutu Hall in Makhaza in Khayelitsha also commemorated victims of gender-based violence and hate crimes.
The activists say that even though there have been great strides made in the medical treatment of HIV and in the rollout of ARVs, the stigma associated with HIV/Aids and opportunistic infections like TB remains high in communities.
Goodman Makanda, advocacy officer from TB Proof, an organisation that advocates for TB prevention and care, said that in most communities, TB is associated with HIV/Aids. “If you have TB, people assume that you are HIV positive and that is the problem. I have been treated for both MDR (multidrug-resistant TB) and XDR TB and I’m HIV negative. They had to operate on me and remove one lung. There is still stigma that is perpetuated at the clinics as we observed most patients who have TB and are HIV positive stop taking their ARVs after they have been declared TB free. We have TB rooms where they come for their medication but when they have to go to the clinic and are made to stand in certain queues then they disappear,” said Makanda.
“We are not celebrating today because the daily infection rate keeps rising. We are also here to remember those who have passed away, people like Nkosi Johnson, people like Nandipha Makeke and those who have been killed because of homophobia,” said chairperson of People Living With HIV/Aids, Neliswa Nkwali.
“There are clear links between HIV/Aids and gender-based violence as it is difficult for most women to negotiate safe sex. We need to use condoms and make sure that people know that they can get PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis] medication at the clinic. We must assist those who suffer from treatment fatigue and refer them for counselling,” Nkwali said.
Ida Oliphant from Wellcome Centre Infectious Diseases Research in Africa (CIDRI) urged those who are on treatment and will be travelling to the Eastern Cape over the December holidays to get referral letters from their clinics.
“We do not get quality service from the healthcare centres because of stigma. The documents that one has to fill in at the clinic only have male or female options and we feel excluded. We want to be part of clinic committees because we can sensitise the centres and we want to be included,” said Amelia Mfiki from Ubomi Bethu.
Mfiki who was speaking on behalf of LGBTQIA+ organisations at the event urged those in attendance to accept LGBTQIA+ family members because they are also human beings. “You cannot change who I am through corrective rape,” she said.
Head of Progressive Primary Health Care for the City of Cape Town in Khayelitsha said that the health committees in Khayelitsha clinics do not have young people below the age of 25 nor LGBTQIA+ members. Qukula urged members of LGBTQIA+ groups to join clinic committees.
“Twenty-five years ago there was no hope but now we have HIV treatment available for everyone. People face stigma from their families and come to us when its too late,” said Vera Scott, who is the area manager for the health department of the City of Cape Town.