Fanny Ndoh Epie, senior counsellor at Nkwen Baptist Health Center, Cameroon, weighs in on the right to dignity for young people living with HIV.
Q: What does Zero Discrimination mean to you?
A: Zero Discrimination in my own words means no partial treatment of persons or groups of persons because they are different. In effect, it means treating everyone equally despite their religion, race, ethnicity, age, health and other differences because we are all humans with equal rights.
Q: How does discrimination affect your clients?
A: Discrimination is a very serious issue when it comes to people living with HIV and my clients are no exception. For instance some young women have lost relationships because of the friends they have confided in who have disclosed their HIV status to third parties without their consent. In other cases, some children especially when they live with relatives, have their utensils separated from those of other household members, their needs are not prioritised and some become victims of abuse. These actions can make children feel worthless, eventually affecting their self-esteem. This also has a negative effect on their adherence because they lack the right support systems necessary for ART adherence.
Q: The right to dignity is important and can ensure that young people return for treatment. How do you work to promote dignity?
At the organisational level:
The mission of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services is to provide quality care to all who need it including young people living with HIV and we do this in the following ways:
- Treating everyone who comes to our facility equally with love and respect irrespective of their differences
- As an institution we have a child protection policy which each clinic staff signs to ensure that the rights of all children in our care are protected and respected
At the clinic level:
Our clinic is child- and adolescent-friendly and this has made it welcoming for young clients who look forward to their appointment dates. With the presence of peer supporters, this task has been made even easier because no intervention related to peers is carried out without peer supporter inputs. In addition, all of our nurses have been trained to work with young people and one nurse has been assigned to serve as the contact person for children and adolescents. This nurse was amongst those honoured during the PATA 2017 Continental Summit.
Q: How can we spread messages of awareness to the community about Zero Discrimination?
- Actively involve students in schools to discuss discrimination because this is one place where discrimination is highly prevalent
- Organise public debates on the dangers of discrimination
- Provide education on what discrimination is through various media outlets like the radio, television and social media, in homes and at the workplace to ensure people have the correct information as ignorance drives stigma and discrimination
- People who have been discriminated against should be able to speak up and share their stories. Mechanisms should be put in place to protect those who speak up so as to protect them from further discrimination and ensure that their feedback results in a change in how services are delivered
- Enforce existing laws protecting people against discrimination and keep reminding health providers and holding them accountable if they violate any of these laws
Q: Why is this important?
A: Let’s take the case of HIV positive individuals: When people are free from discrimination, they and their dependents no longer have to fear exclusion but are encouraged to benefit from improved access to HIV education, information, treatment, care and support at all levels which helps them to lead long and productive lives. With improved access, there is a likelihood that people will adhere to treatment which will lead to suppressed viral load. This will be a big step toward eliminating of AIDS.
Q: What more can be done to achieve Zero Discrimination?
A: A lot has been done in terms of developing policies and implementing laws. Now we need to ensure that these laws are respected by everyone. Those who behave contrary shouldn’t go unpunished. In addition to this we have to continue with targeted education where discrimination persists. People should also be informed of their rights such that the can speak up when they are discriminated against.
The fight against discrimination should not be left only to those affected. It should be our collective responsibility and it requires consistency so that mindsets can be changed. Health providers should lead by example.
Q: Any other comments?
A: In my country, Cameroon, like in most Sub-Saharan African countries, most young people living with HIV are still in hiding; they don’t want to be identified as HIV positive. This is because they are afraid of the treatment by their communities. This makes it challenging for young people to stay on their medication; which is such a vital action in ending HIV transmission. I do believe the main reason many YPLHIV are unable to access and stay on treatment is for fear of discrimination. We have to fight discrimination.
What does zero discrimination mean to you? Comment your thoughts below.
This interview was compiled by Jacquelyne Alesi, PATA’s communication correspondent in Uganda. Jacquelyne will be assisting in the compilation of stories from the voices of the PATA network. As a global youth advocate, she has represented young people on the National Forum of People Living with HIV Networks in Uganda, sits on the board of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) and she is an Ambassador to The Coalition of Children affected by AIDS.