Letter of the Day | HIV stigma negatively impacts us all
THE EDITOR, Madam:
Mayor Delroy Williams recently presented at the fast-track city conference in Lisbon, Portugal, on the work that the municipality is currently undertaking with UNAIDS, the Government of Jamaica and the Jamaican Network of Seropositives, to end HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination in Jamaica. Though advancement in science has allowed persons living with HIV to carry on with their lives, we’ve undoubtedly seen the challenges perpetuated by stigma and discrimination, which still present significant hindrance to Jamaica’s growth and development.
The Jamaican Network of Seropositive’s Stigma Index 2.0 data show that one-third of persons living with HIV face stigma and discrimination at varying levels in the Jamaican context. Likewise, a 2018 study conducted by CAPRI found that US$424 million is spent annually on HIV treatment because of stigma or discrimination. It is important to note that this figure does not account for reduced productivity and lost human capital in the workplace, which adversely impact the country’s social and economic development. In this case, the face of HIV is every Jamaican, because stigma and discrimination intersect with almost all aspects of our lives. Consequently, the national issue of HIV does not only affect those living with the virus, but has implications for us all.
I am proud of the municipality, Mayor Williams and other government actors like State Minister Juliet Cuthbert Flynn for also being vocal in advocating for the reduction of HIV stigma and discrimination in the health sector and other spaces in our society. I sincerely hope the Government continues to invest in the reduction of stigma and discrimination by enacting anti-discrimination legislation that explicitly protect and promote human rights for those who are most vulnerable within our society.
Still, we must admit that, as a nation – despite the immense advocacy from organisations such as the Jamaican Network of Seropositives and the Jamaican AIDS Support for Life – HIV stigma and discrimination erode the dignity of those living with the virus, but also impact our ability to leap into the 20th century as a nation. It prevents us from adopting and ensuring equal opportunities for everyone in our society and negatively impacts our national productivity, which prevents us from creating a Jamaica that’s nice for everybody.
The International Labour Organization reported that diversity and inclusion are drivers of economic development, while the Oxford University Business School presented research that demonstrates the ways in which equal opportunity and happier employees increase creativity and productivity in the workplace. Jamaica’s post-COVID pandemic outlook must be one that centres diversity, inclusion, equity and broad social sustainability as part of the national development strategy. This will lay the foundation for our nation to be that place to live, work, and raise families for all, not some. We must include these practices to improve our anaemic economic and social growth. Let’s end inequality together, because, after all, we are out of many, ONE people, and that includes those living with HIV.
Policy and Advocacy Officer
The Jamaican Network