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International News
Enduring HIV Stigma in Cameroon

January 30, 2014

This article was reported by IRIN.

IRIN recently reported that HIV-infected people in Cameroon experience widespread stigma and discrimination. According to statistics from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, approximately 600,000 Cameroonians are HIV-positive and the prevalence of the disease is 4.5 percent. Isaac Bissala, head of the Cameroon Workers' Union, noted that myths and discrimination persisted in spite of the government making antiretroviral therapy free, decentralizing treatment centers, and establishing HIV/AIDS support programs. Bissala explained that although the labor code forbids discrimination at work in education, business, and service provision, certain places define HIV as a disability. These include financial institutions and some professions such as health and military.

One area of discrimination is the difficulty for HIV-positive individuals getting a bank loan. Banks request life insurance before approving a loan for borrowers without collateral. Insurance companies require a physical before issuing a policy and persons with HIV/AIDS or cancer cannot meet the medical requirements for insurance. As a result, HIV-positive individuals have difficulty getting a bank loan.

Pregnant HIV-positive women have complained of discrimination and neglect at a Yaounde hospital where nurses signal each other to be careful of women with HIV and only attend the mother at the last minute to prevent the newborn from falling on the floor. As a result, mothers avoid going to the hospital for post-pregnancy tests or for the HIV-positive babies' follow-up tests. A teacher at a private college reported being fired for publicly revealing she was HIV-positive, and a hotel receptionist was fired when she disclosed her status to her employer as she could no longer meet clients' sexual demands as part of her job.

Edwin Tchinda of the Chantal Biya International Reference Centre for HIV/AIDS acknowledges that AIDS-related stigma is a big public health problem that prevents patient follow-up and creates difficulty in managing treatment. Also, it leads to self-discrimination and trauma, which can lead to death from stress- and trauma-related causes rather than from HIV/AIDS.

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