Despite South Africa having the world’s largest anti-retroviral therapy (ART) programme, despite the scientific developments and research, despite the bold commitments and good intentions, one fact is brutally clear. The virus is winning.
We have made a mistake in treating HIV as yet another chronic condition, like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart conditions, all major killers in South Africa. The difference is this: HIV travels with a whole lot of excess baggage – guilt and shame in the infected; coupled with judgement and ridicule from the community.
No other disease carries this level of burden. No other disease challenges the infected with both external and internal stigma. We have the testing kits. We have the drugs. Stigma is the lingering threat to eradicating HIV infections. The best scientific interventions are doomed to fail for as long as stigma prevails amongst us.
Only HIV carries the heavy price of ridicule and rejection when the infected dare to disclose their status.