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When stigma kill

Stigma takes many forms. And often it can kill. In some areas, people living with HIV face intense social exclusion that discourages them from seeking care. According to the People Living with HIV Stigma Index, 20 per cent of those living with HIV who were surveyed in Rwanda experienced physical violence because of their status. The figure was 25 per cent in Colombia. Elsewhere, people who contract tuberculosis while in prison can be tagged with numerous overlapping stigmas. Upon release, they may be shunned by family, potential employers, even health workers — the very support structures that help people stay on track with medication and keep the disease from spreading. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement stands up to stigma in different ways: sometimes loudly with public campaigns, sometimes quietly by speaking to community leaders, prison officials or relatives of a sick person. These photos show some of the ways stigma can kill — and how humanitarians are working to save lives by questioning taboos, raising awareness and combating social exclusion.

Born into stigma, HIV-positive Ei Ei Phyu, sleeps in a hammock at an HIV/AIDS hospice in the suburbs of Yangon, Myanmar, where he lives with his mother, who also has HIV. Due to a combination of poor education, social stigma and other factors, people suffering from HIV/AIDS are often isolated in clinics, cut off from society. Photo: ©Reuters/Damir Sagolj

At the Don Bosco transit centre in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this woman with HIV poses for a photo during an ICRC HIV/AIDS awareness-raising event in December 2011. Photo: ©Phil Moore/ICRC

Social stigma surrounding drug use often makes a return to society, and a healthy lifestyle, extremely difficult. A former drug user, Him now lives at a rehabilitation centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Supported by the Cambodian Red Cross Society, the centre provides psychological support and vocational training such as cutting hair, sports, sculpting, music and handicrafts. Photo: ©Benoit Matsha-Carpentier/IFRC

The issue of drug use among women is shrouded in stigma in many cultures. Here, an Afghan doctor explains the use of condoms to a group of women addicts at a counselling session at the Nejat drug rehabilitation centre, an organization funded by the United Nations to provide harm reduction and HIV/AIDS awareness in Kabul. Opiates have long been used as medication in Afghanistan but in recent years have been used increasingly for recreation. Photo: ©Reuters/Ahmad Masood

In many countries affected by conflict, children kidnapped by armed groups to act as soldiers or slaves are often ostracized once they return to their villages. This 14-year-old former child soldier poses for a photo at an orientation and transit centre for children associated with armed groups in North Kivu, Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: ©Phil Moore/ICRC

In the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, women present a theatre piece to make people more sensitive to the consequences of rape and sexual violence. In this scene, the parents of a rape victim try to comfort their daughter. Victims of sexual violence are doubly victimized as they are often ostracized by families and community members. Performances such as this one can combat social stigma. Meanwhile, more than 40 ‘listening houses’, where women can express their grief and get help in a stigma-free environment, are supported by the ICRC in the central African country. Photo: ©Pedram Yazdi/ICRC

In addition to needing medical help, people suffering from discrimination and social isolation due to diseases such as HIV/AIDS need various kinds of support to keep them healthy. Khuyen and her husband Do — both HIV-positive — are core members of a group that offers counselling sessions for people with HIV at the hospital in Hai Phong, Viet Nam. Supported financially and technically by the Vietnam Red Cross Society and the American Red Cross, the group also teaches income-generating skills such as gardening, sewing and farming to people living with HIV. Photo: ©Benoit Matsha-Carpentier/IFRC

Fighting stigma and discrimination requires the courage of individuals who take a public stand on behalf of victims. Peati Malaki is a good example. The HIV officer for the Samoa Red Cross Society, Malaki is the only person living openly with HIV in Samoa, where she runs awareness campaigns in schools and at community events. Photo: ©Benoit Matsha-Carpentier/IFRC

The battle against stigma and disease begins early, with positive messages for young people about HIV prevention and treatment. In May 2013, Kiribati Red Cross Society volunteers performed HIV awareness dramas to educate and inform communities. Photo: ©Benoit Matsha-Carpentier/IFRC


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