Integration of HIV clinics will de-stigmatise HIV

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Eveline de Klerk
Swakopmund

The Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Bernard Haufiku has instructed health personnel at Walvis Bay to integrate HIV clinics into the normal primary healthcare clinics, instead of isolating them.

Patients infected with HIV and AIDS are treated at a separate clinic while patients with other ailments attend a different clinic, but with the directive by the health minister all clinics will be integrated.
The isolation of HIV and AIDS patients is being done at the coast despite a directive sent out in 2015 and 2016 requesting all healthcare services to be integrated under one roof in line with a recommendation by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Haufiku who conducted a two-day outreach visit in the Erongo Region was not amused when he was informed that patients who are HIV-positive were being treated at a separate clinic, which further reinforces the stigma attached to the disease.

After he had engagements with doctors and nurses at Swakopmund the minister issued a directive to integrate the clinics immediately, as the practice is discriminatory.
According to Haufiku, having a separate building or rooms solely dedicated to people living with HIV and AIDS creates a barrier and stigmatises those suffering from HIV, and reveals their status to other members of the public.

“That is not how it is supposed to be. I do not know why the clinic in Kuisebmund still operates that way, despite my clear directive that it should be integrated. We are exposing people’s statuses to the public. We cannot allow such division to affect the work that we have done so far with HIV/AIDS. I want all the names removed from the doors and such services should be part of primary healthcare, so as that everyone can access it there,” Haufiku said.

He explained the directive was issued based on the recommendations made by the World Health Organisation after studies done on treating HIV and AIDS separately found the practice created barriers and reinforced the stigma associated with the medical condition.
“We want people to have access to healthcare freely without fear.  How are we going to achieve the set targets if we treat them separately? I would not want to walk into something that reads HIV on the door where everyone is watching. I know we are supposed to be open about the pandemic, but it is human nature to feel uncomfortable about it.”

Haufiku added that there should only be one clinic where all patients walk in and get their medicines, without anybody feeling the public or their friends know what disease they have.
“Please remove all labels on the doors that say HIV/AIDS. Nobody would go in at a door that is clearly marked like that.  Let’s treat all with the same dignity and respect – we want people to seek assistance with no fear,” he emphasised.

He also felt condoms should not be handed out in the open to the public. “They should rather be placed in bathrooms or at the caregiver’s desk so that those who want to take them can do so without pressure or being watched. In my view those are bedroom secrets that should be treated as such,” Haufiku said.

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