Sun | May 16, 2021

Letter of the Day | End discrimination against HIV-positive women

Published:Friday | April 16, 2021 | 12:06 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

It is a known fact that women in Jamaica are constantly in danger of harassment and discrimination. We see it every day in the news, on social media and in our everyday lives. We must also realise that some women face compounded discrimination and harassment with them living with HIV. Women living with HIV have reported six in 10 instances of human-rights violations to the Jamaican Anti-Discrimination System for HIV.

In Jamaica, HIV-based discrimination is still a major issue affecting the people. Mother-to-child transmission of HIV is no longer a major threat, as HIV-positive mothers in Jamaica can give and are giving birth to HIV-negative babies because they are able to reduce the amount of virus in their body due to the advances in medication. However, discrimination against HIV-positive mothers for wanting to have a child is still an issue as they are often demonised and told they are ‘wicked’ by their families, their communities, and even by healthcare providers for wanting to bear children. In 2021, we still have the issue of women living with HIV being encouraged to ‘tie off’ to prevent getting pregnant.

Things have changed. Here’s the science, U equals U (Undetectable = Untransmittable). People living with HIV can achieve an undetectable viral load by following their medication and overall treatment plan. Once it become undetectable, they can no longer transmit HIV. This should be known, especially by healthcare providers, but unfortunately that has not erased discrimination.

Also, gender-based violence restricts HIV treatment and care, but women also face violence because of their real or perceived HIV status. A common issue affecting women living with HIV is violence surrounding disclosure of their status. Case in point: A woman living with HIV has a new sex partner who doesn’t know about her HIV status. After a few weeks, the partner no longer wants to use a condom because they are now in a ‘committed relationship’. She insists on using a condom just to be safe, and because he refuses to, she shares her HIV status. He responds violently and discloses her HIV status to her friends and family. She is kicked out of the household and is cut off from both social and financial support. Unfortunately, this is a common case for women living with HIV in Jamaica.

Discrimination is not only hurtful and wrong, but it is also unnecessary. If we are aware of the ways HIV is transmitted, that it is no longer a death sentence, it can be treated, then we can conclude that there is no reason to discriminate against a woman living with HIV.

Every woman has a right to raise a family, hold a job and contribute to her country. Let us do better to end discrimination against persons living with HIV.

TAJNA-LEE SHIELDS

The Jamaican Network of Seropositives