South African President Jacob Zuma has implored the people of South Africa to change their attitudes about the epidemic and the stigma attached to HIV. Vuyiseka Dubula, General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign and Positive Hero joined President Jacob Zuma launch the new testing campaign when President Zuma took leadership on the issue of stigma saying:
“There are some challenges we must deal with around HIV and AIDS which contribute to the delay in stemming the tide of this epidemic. One of these is attitudes and the stigma attached to the disease. We have to work harder, together, to fight the perceptions and the stigma. We have to make all South Africans understand that people living with HIV have not committed any crime, and that they have rights like any other citizen. We have to expand the knowledge and understanding of the epidemic to protect affected individuals and families. The stigma arises from fear, and fear from ignorance. Let us fight ignorance. The greatest benefit from the HIV testing campaign should be the education of our people and the promotion of the rights to human dignity and privacy of those living with HIV“.
The President went on to say: “Therefore as we encourage all our people to test and know their status today, we must emphasise certain basic and fundamental messages. The HIV test is confidential. By promoting the testing campaign publicly, we are not putting pressure on people to undertake public tests. The decision is made by an individual alone or as people in a relationship to take the tests, after counselling and being provided with information and implications. People do not have to take a public test or release their results if they do not want to do so. Everything will be done confidentially. Everybody’s privacy and dignity must be respected by health professionals and the public in general. We must also respect the HIV status of all South Africans, whether positive or negative. Let us not make those who test HIV positive to live in shame and fear. We must support each other emotionally during that difficult time, and also materially where possible”.