Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Even teachers shunned kids of woman with HIV - Tales of torment and discrimination

Published:Wednesday | December 2, 2020 | 3:05 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Ackeria Smith (left) and Khumar McHugh of Ashe perform at a World AIDS Day candelight vigil at the arts company's Cargill Avenue, St Andrew, facility on Tuesday night. Seven hundred new HIV cases were diagnosed in Jamaica in 2019, Health and Wellness Minis
Ackeria Smith (left) and Khumar McHugh of Ashe perform at a World AIDS Day candelight vigil at the arts company's Cargill Avenue, St Andrew, facility on Tuesday night. Seven hundred new HIV cases were diagnosed in Jamaica in 2019, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said. Jamaica commemorated World AIDS Day on December 1.

Althea was 27 years old and pregnant when she found out that she was HIV-positive.

“It was already rumoured in my community before I did my test due to a prior relationship my partner had. So I was already expecting the positive result. I was just overly scared,” the 51-year-old told The Gleaner.

Her children were stigmatised even though they had tested negative for the virus that causes AIDS.

“Teachers would not mark their books. I cried a lot and was afraid to go out,” she recalled.

Althea explained that her job as a dressmaker became non-existent because of her status.

Althea delayed medical treatment because of stigma and discrimination.

She fled her community as she was referred to as the “AIDS gal” and did not seek treatment until she became “very sick, next to death”.

“I was afraid of going to the doctor because I was afraid people might see me. I had also heard rumours of healthcare professionals disclosing person’s status,” she said.

Joining a support group helped her to become empowered and taught her how to deal with stigma and discrimination.

With new-found knowledge, she was able to start sharing the right information with her children, community, and family.

The mother of four, who dubs herself as ‘Althea Living Positively Positive’, is urging Jamaicans to desist from stigmatising and discriminating against people living with HIV.

“That will drive us underground and that will increase the spread because people will hide their status and be in unhealthy relationships,” she cautioned.

Althea also used the opportunity to encourage Jamaicans to educate themselves in an effort to dispel the myths about HIV and AIDS.

World AIDS Day was observed Tuesday under the theme ‘Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility’.

Twenty-eight-year-old Khavor Brown recalled how devastated he was three years ago when he received the results of his HIV test.

“I did not know about treatment and care, becoming virally suppressed and undetected. My devastation came from the ignorance of the virus which is manifested in stigma against the virus as a death sentence,” he told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

Brown became isolated, but a week later, he visited a government facility to begin treatment.

He explained that he faced discrimination at the hands of security guards because of his attire and did not return for treatment for more than a year.

“Today, I am near to becoming virally suppressed due to learning how to respond to stigma, by humanising myself and the virus itself,” Brown said.

Like Althea, he desires for Jamaicans to extend compassion to people living with HIV and AIDS and to treat all with dignity.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com