The 'I Am Positive' Campaign
There are 35 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV)--- a disease that weakens the immune system allowing other diseases to attack the body causing precipitated conditions that are ultimately fatal. Of these 35 million people, about 71 percent are in sub Saharan Africa. All though treatment through Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) is becoming more readily available prolonging healthy lives for those infected there is no cure for HIV, while at the same time the world saw, by the end of 2013, 2.1 million new infections.
In Tanzania, an estimated 1.5 million people are living with HIV, with 86,000 new infections at the last count in 2013, according to a report by the National Council of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Tanzania (NACOPHA). The same report details the stigma that persons living with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania experience in their daily lives. Although the report cautions about interpreting their results across all PLHIV because clearly the respondents who answered questions are not likely to be the typical PLHIV in Tanzania. That caveat notwithstanding, however, the report details some disturbing experiences for HIV-infected persons in Tanzania. 2 out of 10 of respondents in Dar es Salaam report either being physically harassed or assaulted.
Roughly 30 percent of respondents from Dar es Salaam report being denied a place to live because of their HIV status. An equal percentage report losing their jobs because of being HIV positive. When asked what they would recommend would help reduce stigma and discrimination against PLHIV in Tanzania, close to half of the respondents in Dar es Salaam said “advocating for the rights of all people living with HIV.” These findings, among others prompted a group of young leaders based in Dar es Salaam (including yours truly), who are Global Shapers--- an initiative of the World Economic Forum---- to initiate the I Am Positive Campaign that will run up to this year’s World AIDS Day on December 1st.
As part of the campaign the Global Shapers of the Dar es Salaam Hub are going to embark on an aggressive social media campaign to begin to change the perceptions of Tanzanians, in particular, young Tanzanians, on what it means to live positively with or without HIV/AIDS. As Dar es Salaam Shapers, we are keen to de-stigmatize the language around being HIV positive in Tanzania. The social media campaigned has been kicked off with yours truly’s photograph being shared---with the statement “I Am Positive” across all social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter among others. We will post these photographs with our statements on how we live positively. We encourage everyone to do the same across their social media platforms, with the statement I Am Positive.
We are also going to pen Op-Eds in leading news dailies in Tanzania; invite a local leader in public health to lead a discussion about HIV/AIDS and the stigma around it. We are also planning to curate a discussion with young people in schools and universities encouraging them to get tested, protect themselves, and remain HIV-free, while at the same time recruiting them to join us in fighting for the rights of PLHIV. On World AIDS Day, we hope to pitch a tent where we will mobilize young people to come and know their status; continue to live positively by protecting themselves against infection; and lastly to be soldiers against any stigma and discrimination against those of us that are HIV positive. We want to be as inclusive as possible and welcome all contributions from across the social spectrum.
HIV/AIDS is a pandemic and thus affects us all and although Tanzania has recently seen declines in prevalence rates of HIV among those aged 15-49, we should all work to sustain this positive trend toward declines in prevalence. Moreover prevalence rates in Tanzania are varied with as little as 0.3 percent on the island of Pemba, but as high as 14.8 percent in Njombe and 6.9 percent in Dar es Salaam so the fight is far from over. So, we--- the Dar es Salaam Global Shapers--- invite you all to spread the word and join us in our I Am Positive campaign which seeks fight to curb new HIV infections and in our fight against stigma and discrimination of persons living with HIV/AIDS.