Dr. Ruth Laibon-Masha, CEO National AIDS Control Council, has urged stakeholders in the HIV response space to engage communities beyond people living with HIV in their quest to fight stigma. Speaking during a stakeholder engagement workshop where findings of studies exploring stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV in Kenya were disseminated, Dr. Masha faulted the approach to addressing stigma which focuses on stakeholders in seminars as opposed to identifying and addressing the right audience through mass and one-on-one education. “People living with HIV come from communities, and they apply to themselves what they learn from communities. If you live in a community where AIDS is described as ‘somebody walking dead’, then immediately you test HIV positive, you begin looking at yourself from that perspective. It is difficult to measure self-stigma and manage it from that perspective,” she said. 

Dr. Masha also highlighted stigma related to services and products, especially those key to HIV prevention. “We say people are not testing because there is stigma around it. People are not coming to access condoms because there is stigma around condoms. There is stigma even for carrying ARVs,” she noted.  

She called on a total rethink on addressing stigma and looking at options such as a scientific process that engages even those who are not infected. This way, she said, we will be able to know communities that have high stigma levels and develop the right strategies to address it.

Over the last 12 months, the most reported form of stigma or discrimination experienced by people living with HIV due to their status included being subjected to discriminatory remarks or gossip by either family (20.14 per cent) or non-family members (24.66 per cent) and verbal harassment (20.14 per cent).