Facing HIV Stigma in School

18 September 2017

Maureen Phiri from Lilingwe, Malawi faced much stigma and discrimination from her schoolmates due to her HIV status. "Due to the stigma that was associated with taking anti-retroviral treatment, it became too hard for me to adhere to my daily dosage and, eventually, I defaulted. I was frequently being taken ill and at one time I was forced to go home. Word had reached the school that I had passed on and my friends looked so indifferent upon my return. None wanted anything to do with me. At this moment, I made a decision not to return after the term had finished,” she narrated her story.

Living with HIV is tough on its own, it appears it gets even tougher when your rights to enjoy full health friendly services are limited. Maureen’s story shows it gets worse when you are a young female trying to pursue education while living with HIV. Anne Banda, a woman activist, said that many young women and girls give up adherence to anti-retroviral therapy due to the discrimination they face as well as delayed disclosure of their status from their parents. For instance, Maureen only knew about her HIV status when she was 17 years old. 

Against such an environment, an international organisation ActionAid consolidated its efforts to work with a local network of Young People Living with HIV/Aids (Y-Plus) to fight stigma and instill confidence in girls like Maureen. The organisation conducts trainings where the girls are enlightened on their rights with the view of empowering them to demand for their rights when they feel so. They are also taught the importance of living positively. Regional Thematic Women’s Rights Manager for ActionAid in Malawi Chikumbutso Ngosi Ndaferankhande said, by working with girls like Maureen, they want to make them agents of change. “We want to ensure that we create a safe space for them to share their challenges which are common across the country. Our intention is to empower them to implement specific advocacy actions to make sure that they influence change,” Ndaferankhande said.

Indeed after the encounter with ActionAid and Y-Plus, Maureen is now emotionally strong to stand stigma and discrimination.

Read the full article online here.