Stop discriminating and stigmatizing people with HIV
Samoa AIDS Foundation President Leniu Dr. Asaua Fa’asino has appealed to the public to stop stigmatizing men, women and children living with HIV.
In a recent interview with the Samoa Observer, Leniu confirmed that there are 11 people living with HIV in Samoa with two children who are currently in school.
“And so we offer services to those who are infected with HIV and also to the children who are affected, because of their parents have the virus."
“In the program that is now underway, we offer an educational starter package for nine children. Please I want to clarify that not all nine children have the HIV virus – only two have it."
“The seven children under the care of this program that don’t have the virus and because mother/father who are not infected cannot work, this is where we come in.
Our role is to provide financial and social support for this family and these are the children that do not have the virus. And so we pay for their tuition fees these children,” she said.
Leniu said the same services are afforded to the two students who are living with HIV, who were infected through mother-to-child transmission.
“There are certain ways to transmit the virus such as sexual contact or blood contact, particularly through sharing injection drug needles or 'works' (cotton, cookers) and mother to baby (before or during birth) or while breastfeeding through breast milk.”
Leniu said the two children are currently in school and the major issue the families face is stigmatization.
“All of them have not come out for the fear of stigmatization and being discriminated by the public. They are always stigmatized by the public, and one of our roles with the Foundation is to protect their rights.”
When Leniu was asked if their teachers or principal were made aware of the students’ status, she said it wouldn’t be fair for the two children.
“It is not fair for these children to be discriminated due to their illness – yet there are other students who have infectious virus such as the hepatitis B and hepatitis C – which is just as serious because their life long infections but they manage to live a normal life. We are trying to say do not single out HIV – it is the same as hepatitis B and hepatitis C and chlamydia. It is the right of these to keep their identity hidden.”
When she was asked of the risks to the teacher and the students in the same class, Leniu said there is no need to be alarmed if they are healthy.
“That is a good question, but if they (infected child) are healthy there is no alarm and no concern, if they are sick they will be staying home and will be taken care of. And it is something that is being debatable for a long time and it comes down to protecting their identity and their rights.”
Leniu said more awareness on HIV and AIDS is critical to getting the community sensitized to the issues associated with the disease.
She said self-stigma and fear of a negative community reaction can hinder efforts to address the HIV epidemic, and only through education and awareness programs can stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV be reduced.