Stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS must end.

This plea was reiterated recently by Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development, Steven Blackett, while speaking at an HIV and the Elderly Seminar entitled: Safe Today???Healthy Tomorrow, at the Accra Beach Resort and Spa.

According to Mr. Blackett, stigma can lead to poor treatment in the home, community and institutional settings, the erosion of rights, estrangement from loved ones, lack of social support, and psychological damage. It could also have a negative effect on the success of HIV programmes.

The Minister added that older persons who had contracted the virus were simultaneously subjected to stigma and discrimination as a result of ageism, and HIV-related stigma. ???They often use non-disclosure as a response to the perceived stigma and do not disclose that they are ill. This has implications for seeking timely assistance and for accessing treatment, care and support,??? he outlined.

Noting that persons needed to understand the underlying factors that motivate their behaviour, attitudes and responses to persons living with HIV, the Minister pointed out that some factors could be ignorance, fear, or even a lack of tolerance for persons who do not share values similar to the majority. ???These responses have the capacity to erode some of the gains which have been made in the fight against HIV,??? Mr. Blackett contended.

He further challenged participants at the conference to broaden their minds and be receptive to the information given; share it with their peers, families and communities; and identify practical and meaningful ways in which the knowledge could be translated into practices, behaviours and attitudes.

???Today I want you to take a look at stigma from a different perspective and I ask that you take a few minutes to engage in these reflective questions: How have my attitudes and behaviours helped to stigmatise someone who has HIV?; What disparaging and negative remarks have I made about a person living with HIV and how have these remarks affected them?; Is there anyone in my family or in my community whom I have isolated and excluded because of their known or perceived HIV status?; Have I denied someone assistance or service because of their HIV status?; and What has caused me to react in this way to persons who have HIV???? the Minister challenged.

The seminar was organised by the Ministry of Social Care, in collaboration with the National Assistance Board.

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