KAMPALA — In preparations to join the rest of the world to mark Zero Discrimination Day this week, UGANET and partners have on Thursday, February 27 started with a community engagement activity at Kiswa Health Centre IV in the Kampala suburb of Bugolobi.
Happening this Sunday, the commemoration of Zero Discrimination Day will then culminate into another community engagement on the afternoon of Sunday, March 1 at Kimombasa slum in the populous Kampala division of Kawempe.
Zero Discrimination Day is observed each year on March 1, with the aim of highlighting issues related to all forms of discrimination around the world. For this year, the theme is “Zero Discrimination against Women and Girls.”
UGANET is organizing the two Zero Discrimination Day community engagements with support Global Fund and TASO, and is partnering with / TASO and in partnership with the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU), International Community of Women Living with HIV in Eastern Africa (ICWEA), and Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF).
The two activities have also been organized in close collaboration with broader HIV and the Law CSO coalition under the guidance of UNAIDS to focus on an HIV/health-related zero discrimination advocacy campaign.
The Head of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation at UGANET, Immaculate Owomugisha, said involving communities empowers them to fight discrimination and increases their participation in creating an enabling social environment to tackle barriers to access to care and treatment, stigma, discrimination and criminalization.
“Three decades of experience in the global response to HIV show that human rights-based approaches to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support – coupled with enabling legal environments to safeguard rights – help reduce people’s vulnerability to HIV,” she explained.
The Executive Director of UGANET, Dora Kiconco Musinguzi, said the focus on women and girls in this year’s theme will help to raise visibility for the challenges of discrimination that women and girls face, especially in terms of highlighting the importance of encouraging the inclusion of diverse groups of women such as women living with HIV, transgender women and sex workers.
Ms Kiconco also added that this year’s theme will help civil society organizations to generate political will and support for action necessary to address the challenges of discrimination against women and girls that often increase social, legal and economic barriers to women’s equal access to health and education.
Currently, according to the 2019 Stigma Index for Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV), which measures and quantifies HIV stigma and discrimination in Uganda, decisions by PLHIVs to disclose their status over fear that they will be discriminated against leads to more than 21 percent of infected males in Uganda and 20 percent of females missing out on a dose of their treatment.
As a result, according to Ms Owomugisha, the fear of disclosure and the fear of perceptions of others have a direct impact on adherence, viral load suppression and eventually increased incidences of HIV.
Such fears are, however, not unfounded, going by other results from the HIV Stigma Index. For instance, nearly 8 percent of PLHIV reported refusal of employment or loss of income, while 3.72 percent reported changes in job descriptions or nature and denial of promotion once their employers found out their HIV status.
Yet, when faced with such human rights violations, only 18.82 percent of PLHIVs surveyed said they had tried to address the situation, while 40 percent of respondents did not know of laws in place to protect the rights of people living with HIV such as the 2014 HIV Prevention and Control Act.
UGANET and its partners intend to use the community engagement activities to raise awareness about the negative impact that stigma and discrimination of PLHIVs has HIV prevention, care and treatment efforts. Other objectives include highlighting the gaps in policies, laws and practices that discriminate and encourage duty bearers to address them, as well as standing in solidarity with marginalized and vulnerable groups who continue to suffer stigma, discrimination and social injustice.