Stigma based on ignorance

15 October 2007

Cal Volks, director of HAICU (left), delivers a presentation of her research into HIV/AIDS stigma at UCT. To her left is colleague Puleng Phooko.

HIV/AIDS is "an African disease" at UCT, and students living with the virus are seen as "sluts and promiscuous".

This was one of the findings revealed during the HIV/AIDS-related Stigma Colloquium at UCT, hosted by HIV/AIDS Co-ordination - UCT (HAICU) on 11 October.

The aim of the colloquium was to enrich collective understanding of how HIV/AIDS and its related stigma is experienced on and off campus, how it affects students' academic and personal lives, and how the issue can be addressed to achieve an AIDS-competent UCT.

Student Sara Cooper interviewed a group of "highly educated" white students who believe that the virus is generally associated with black people.

Cal Volks of the HIV/AIDS Unit said only seven female students turned up when they made a call to get their experiences.

She said there was a "complex" relationship between disclosure and the fear of stigmatisation.

As a result, no students have publicly disclosed their positive HIV status, and only one staff member has done so.

The theory-and researched-based sessions at the event included the experience of students living with HIV and AIDS; perspectives on whether UCT students inadvertently stigmatise the virus and persons living with it; perspectives from members of the gay and lesbian community at UCT; perspectives from the Positive Muslims Society and the effect of cultural norms and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS-related stigma.

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