Cameroon: Self stigma an all too common barrier to accessing services

21 Jun 2013

Emmanuel left a message behind: "I am tired of being ill-treated and falsely accused of being mentally ill and being treated with such scorn because of rumours that I am an HIV seropositive patient."

Suicides such as Emmanuel's are dramatic examples of the consequences of stigma. But there are many more quiet deaths due to stigma - such as when people respond to self-stigma by passively allowing HIV to take its devastating course through their bodies. Self-stigma is a form of stigma where an HIV-positive individual isolates him or herself, collectively, denying themselves of fellowship, relationships, their rights to health and ultimately even life because they don't feel they deserve those things or they fear the prejudice of others.

According to the PLHIV Stigma Index - conducted by RéCAP+, the national network of networks of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Cameroon this form of stigma is all too common. More than 1300 PLHIV were interviewed in this study.

It isn't hard to understand, if you can put yourself in the shoes of a person at risk of HIV in a place where HIV-stigma is oppressive. Neglecting your health is easy, if you are too afraid to get an HIV test or too afraid to pick up the results, because someone might see you going to the testing site. You might be too afraid to ask off work in order to go to the clinic or pharmacy to pick up your medications lest someone in your workplace learns you are HIV-positive and you lose your job. You might want to conceal taking your antiretrovirals from your family, and thus, fail to take them routinely, and become resistant to them because you are afraid of getting caught in the act and thus giving their HIV status away to their partner or their family.

People in Cameroon are more afraid of the potential familial/socio-economic consequences of their HIV status becoming known than the physical ones.

  • 47 % of the interviewees had once lost their jobs because of their status
  • 17 % of surveys show that they had been abused by a family member