Stigma Clouds AIDS Battle

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Stigma remains the single biggest stumbling block in fighting the pervasive HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country and the entire Southern Africa Region. This view was expressed by the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, who stressed there is a strong need for all Namibians to get rid of the stigma against people infected and affected by the sickness. “We have to stand together as a team and the fight against the HIV/AIDS stigma must continue unabated,” said Dr Kamwi. The health minister recently opened the regional office of the Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA). Kamwi said the time had come to get rid of the stigma attached to the pandemic altogether and to make a concerted breakthrough in minimising the rate of infection. “It is because of stigma that you find that people living with HIV hide themselves from the public and in the process spread the disease,” he said. There was a need, said Kamwi, to strengthen the culture of human rights for those stigmatised and discriminated against as result of being infected with HIV. Consequently, the ARASA office has been instrumental through various alliances with organisations in other Southern African countries in promoting a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS. Having been previously housed by the Legal Assistance Centre, ARASA now has its own independent offices in the capital, which was inaugurated by the health minister recently. According to its director Michaela Clayton, ARASA is a regional alliance of 14 non-governmental organisations working together to promote a human rights based response to HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. As a Namibian homegrown organisation started in 2002, the Aids Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre has hosted ARASA’s regional office until February this year. However, Clayton noted that ARASA established itself as a non-governmental organisation independent of the LAC in the form of a trust in May this year with its new offices in Eros in Robert Mugabe Avenue in Windhoek. The bulk of the founding trustees are from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe South Africa and Zambia. Since its inception, ARASA has been hosting various workshops on human rights and HIV/AIDS in the region. “Its about disseminating information on AIDS, awareness raising – and now we have held workshops in eight to nine different countries,” explained Clayton. Yet through its advocacy work on human rights and HIV/AIDS there have been several spin-offs of similar workshops in other African countries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo for instance, a Charter on Human Rights and HIV/AIDS was launched, while in Mauritius there were discussions on introducing a new bill on HIV/AIDS.