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Stigma, Discrimination Still Major Barriers To AIDS Fight 

By Francis Tim & Elvis Tah

Officials of the Cameroon Baptist Convention, CBC, Health Board AIDS Care and Prevention Programme, ACP, have said stigmatisation and discrimination of HIV/AIDS patients, have continuously been a major problem in the fight against the disease.

Journalists after AIDS seminar at CBC Health Unit Mutengene

The HIV/AIDS crusaders contended that when people living with HIV/AIDS in our society are stigmatised and discriminated upon, it prevents others from voluntarily doing their test to know their status. Thus, many healthy carriers who do not yet know their status continue to spread the disease unknowingly.

The ACP Supervisor, Joseph Nkfusai, made this revelation to the press during a two-day knowledge-enhancement training on HIV & AIDS at the CBC Health Care Service Centre in Mutengene, Thursday, June 18. According to Nkfusai, if sensitisation messages from the press and otherwise could, henceforth, be crafted in such a way that they discourage stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, all efforts aimed at eradicating the disease or stemming its spread will see a greater success.

The well over 20 journalists who attended the workshop, went home with the knowledge that there are many people around the world today who have successfully been living with the disease for about 20 years. Besides, they said people with HIV could successfully lead their lives without developing full blown AIDS, provided they change their behaviour and adopt healthy ways of living with the disease.

The ACP officials strongly discouraged messages that carry negative connotations such as "AIDS kills" or the belief, held by some people, that having HIV is a death sentence. They asserted that with the availability of anti-retroviral drugs and the continuous search for a cure, there is hope, given that there are many people today who have been living normally, thanks to anti-retroviral drugs.The health workers held that HIV/AIDS patients, who scrupulously respect their medical prescriptions, can live long.

Stages Of Infection

According to the ACP officials, HIV has several stages in development; the initial stage when the virus enters the living cell of the body, the window period which is the time between infection with the body making infectious fighting antibodies to be detected in blood. There is also the ‘sero-conversion’, which is the period when the HIV becomes detectable as positive in the blood, the asymptomatic stage, which is the period between infection and development of symptoms and the symptomatic stage which is the period where we observe the general signs and symptoms of the disease.   

Meanwhile, a strong debate pre-occupied many during the training on the controversy surrounding confidentiality of test results. While others think the cloak of confidentially was not helping matters since it is not easy to know a person living with the virus from facial appearance, the health workers said the issue remains dicey as WHO maintains that there must be confidentially of results.

Consequently, it becomes difficult to break the rule especially for married couples that one of the partners is infected. The health workers noted that sometimes problems emerge because one of the partners can test positive and refuse to reveal their status to their wives and vice versa, thus one party might eventually contaminate the other.

CBC AIDS Care And Prevention Programme

The CBC AIDS Care and Prevention Programme has existed for 17 years. CBC started with community AIDS education in 1992 and in 1999 they upgraded it up to a full HIV & AIDS Programme.

The programme has 13 different areas of intervention: prevention of mother-to-child transmission with support to some 400 community-based support groups; care for TB patients given that 70 percent of them are HIV positive and care for orphaned children amongst others.
The CBC AIDS Care and Prevention unit has broken some new grounds in their determined efforts to prevent the spread and transmission of the HIV/AIDS in the society. It has created a network programme to target youth especially girls, who for some reasons, indulge in promiscuity. Thanks to the programme, they have successfully tracked down some 363 girls who they tag index persons, as at June 2008.

The CBC health experts also said they have successfully traced and notified 271 partners of the index persons. Amongst the partners, they have counselled and tested 195, 100 of whom tested positive. Nine of the 100 are now on treatment. Other facilitators during the seminar were Malise Bih, Irene Ndong, Winifred Wainfen, Paul Agho and Charles Asah.

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