The AIDS patients are coming! The AIDS patients are coming!

The other day we were weaving our way between wineries in Essex County, Ontario, sampling the fine fall varietals.  Wherever we go we share our unfolding tale of volunteering with CUSO-VSO.  Hardly surprising …

One vintner we visited seemed particularly impressed by our willingness to venture off overseas to work with organizations that support those affected by HIV/AIDS.  His next comment, however, showed us that having HIV/AIDS still carries a considerable stigma in Canada.

“My wife is an officer with Immigration Canada.  People with HIV/AIDS shouldn’t be allowed into Canada. They’re a huge drain on the health system,” he declared, expecting us to agree wholeheartedly.

GASP.  Disbelief.  Shock.  Bafflement.  Pain.  Anger.  Sadness.  Sigh…

What a can of worms to open up… immigration policies, chronic diseases, ethics of humanitarian assistance, discrimination … All could be blog posts on their own (and very colourful ones at that!).

Since our work in Maroua will focus quite a bit on stigma-reduction programming we thought we could use our encounter to give you – our readers – our take on what stigma entails, not to mention what makes it so pernicious.

When we talk about the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS we’re speaking of any form of discrimination or prejudice directed towards individuals affected by the virus (not just those infected) and the communities around them.  Usually grounded in fear, misunderstanding, misinformation or bigotry, stigma can lead to individuals being shunned by their community, barred from economic or social opportunities, physically harmed, or even denied their most basic human rights.

In Northern Cameroon we will be working with CUSO-VSO’s partner organizations in reducing stigma at the local level.  Others are working on this in Canada through public education, lobbying and communication campaigns.  Whether at home or abroad, perhaps the most important part of dealing with this stigma is recognizing the humanity and potential of each individual.  No human being should be a persona non grata.

That’s what fuels us – an opportunity to change people’s minds, to help them see beyond the disease.  Beyond exclusion.  Towards inclusion.  Definitely a work in progress, but one worth pursuing…

Perhaps over a better glass of wine?

~ by Greg Spira on October 28, 2009.

One Response to “The AIDS patients are coming! The AIDS patients are coming!”

  1. that’s interesting

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