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TASO embarks on campaign to combat HIV stigma in schools

Masaka, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Aids Support Organization-TASO in Masaka has rolled out a school-based HIV counseling program to create a safe environment for adolescents and protection of HIV-positive learners.

Fiona Nakimera, a counselor at TASO Masaka center says the concern of stigma in schools coupled with the negative attitude of teachers, has consistently featured prominently during their engagement with HIV-positive students, which threatens their adherence to drugs.

She says they have started engaging the school administrators in the area to sensitize them about the need to provide the required support to children living with the virus, such that they can also feel safe while at school.

Nakimera argues that many children continue to drop out of school as a result of either stigmatization or phobia based on their HIV status, inflicted on them both by their teachers and fellow learners.

She says that their assessments have indicated that the schools are not providing conducive environments that enable their learners to regularly take their drugs, and as a result, some of the children living with the virus are deliberately staying away from the boarding section, which affects their academic performance.

She explains that they are now looking forward to encouraging teachers to start embracing students living with the virus, deliberately supporting their adherence to treatment as well as providing them with counseling services whenever the need arises.

Nakimera observes that their campaign also intend to create a situation where students living with the virus can freely live together with their negative colleagues without exposing them to risks of transmission.

She explains that their target is to set up school-based HIV support, comprising of both teachers and learners, who will eventually be used as change agents to preach against stigmatization.

Dick Bugembe, the Chairperson of Masaka District Association of Persons with Disabilities Living with HIV/AIDS-MADIPHA, says many of the positive children had started developing opportunistic infections that arise from poor uptake of drugs, which is blamed on stigma.

According to Bugembe, having a critical mass of teachers that is proactive on HIV-related matters is urgent if the country is to register the preferred success in its target of eliminating the virus.

Daniel Isiko, the Headteacher of Notredame High School Nyendo, who was among the first cohort to be trained on Tuesday observes that the campaign is relevant, saying that there were gaps in their support strategies for students living with HIV.

He indicates that although the teachers are regularly cautioned against actions and statements that stigmatize the students living with the virus, the responsibility of ensuring adherence to drugs had been left to parents.

The National Policy Guidelines on Ending Stigma and Discrimination of 2020 advocate for mutual responsibility of everyone to prevent all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination in the school environment, health facilities, workplace, community, and society generally.

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