A zero Media campaign aimed at reducing social stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and other sexual majority groups in Liberia has been launched, with calls for a joint effort in resisting these societal problems.
Stigma and discrimination are societal barriers that undermine improved public health interventions because they prevent people from seeking health care and disclosing their health status.
Initiated by a media group, Anti-AIDS Media Network (AAMIN), the campaign seeks to improve collaboration between media and civil society organizations to ensure that key populations, sexual minority groups, and marginalized people have access to health care services without being stigmatized.
Supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the campaign will also strengthen discussions among stakeholders to support Liberia’s HIV scale-up programs, using Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) through awareness as driving force.
The laughing program coincided with the training of 20 journalists and Civil Society workers who are considered Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) champions in Liberia.
Dr. Miriam Chipimo, Country Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) Office in Liberia said if the country must achieve the global target known as the ‘90-90-90 by 2020’, reducing stigma and discrimination is the best way forward.
Liberia including the rest of the world had promised to ensure that by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV are tested, 90 percent of those tested are put on treatment and 90 percent of those on treatment have a suppressed viral load in their bodies.
“We have to reach 90-90-90 for Liberia; we will not do it without addressing issues related to stigma and crimination-so this is why I think this campaign is really important,” Dr, Chipimo said.
Dr. Chipimo wants Liberians to pass stigma and discrimination and embrace acceptance saying “That is why other countries are making greater progress because they have less stigma and less discrimination related to HIV and AIDS, they are supporting family members living with HIV.”
She said stigma emanates from fear, and that it is important for people living with HIV to be supported; otherwise more people will get infected every day in the country.
According to Dr. Chipimo said if stigma and discrimination are not taken seriously “people will not go for test, they will not get treatment so the virus will multiply and they will die; whereas when you actually get treatment you are fine and you will live a normal healthy life-and you do not pass on the virus.”
Mr. Dayugar Johnson, Country Consultant for the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) in Liberia said stigma and discrimination are major barriers limiting the number of rights issues in the country including key populations’ access to health.
Mr. Johnson said to address these issues; the media and civil society organizations are best suited in changing people’s perception and attitudes.
“There are few institutions in the country that help to set the agenda of public options and the media is one and key; the other institution is the church or religious institutions-they can contribute greatly in changing people’s behaviors regarding key populations’ health access”, Mr. Dayugar said.
He observed that “one of the things I have come to realize is that when people hear about LGBT, or transgender or MSM, the first thing that comes to mind is the act and not the person; they don’t see the person so they stigmatize and discriminate. How can we change the narrative that these are people we are talking about?-we need to change our behaviors first.”
Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Vice President Octavin T. Williams thanked members of the Anti-AIDS Media Network for pledging to serve humanity by specializing in health reporting especially HIV and SRHR.
“The profession we chose is to serve humanity, that’s why most of my writings we end up in the courthouse and most of my causes I have won them. Gone are the days where journalists were tied to a particular situation; so I am glad that some journalists have given their time to social work most especially the health sector; the society is counting on us,” Mr. Williams said.
He challenged members of AAMIN to investigate and expose people especially healthcare practitioners who are involved in breaching the medical oath they took by leaking people’s medical records without regards to confidentiality.