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Saturday, 10 March, 2001, 01:00 GMT
UK Aids campaign targets Africans

Posters liken bias against HIV sufferers to apartheid
An Aids charity is starting a campaign aimed at offering support to the large numbers of Africans in Britain who are HIV positive.

The Terrence Higgins Trust says it wants to remove the stigma surrounding the condition in many African communities and enable those affected to get treatment earlier.

The health promotion manager in the charity's Africa team, Liz Kawonza, said many people felt forced to keep knowledge of their condition to themselves.

"Despite what everyone has said what normally happens is once friends and family know you're HIV positive the likely reaction is they no longer want to associate with you.

Liz Kawonza
Liz Kawonza: 'Stigma adds to the problems of sufferer'

"Once someone tells, it becomes difficult for them to remain part of the community, they are almost like a leper," she said.

Government figures estimate there are up to 30,000 cases of HIV infection in Britain, a third of them undiagnosed.

The number of cases among Britain's African community is second only to that among gay men, with many of those affected having arrived in Britain in the last few years.

HIV sufferers
African: 3,902
Caribbean: 450
Black - Other: 259
South Asian: 272
White: 12,115
Other/mixed: 1,084
Total: 19,170

Source: Public Health Laboratory Service

After a 200% rise in cases in Luton in recent years, a study by Bedfordshire Health Authority found half were Zimbabweans who had arrived in Britain since 1998.

But Liz Kawonza said in spite of the risks being higher in Africa, where the disease was more prevalent, they did not want to add to the stigma by singling out certain sections of the community.

"We have to be careful because we do have responsibility for African people living in this country.

"We don't want to breed complacency by creating a situation where people think 'as long as I don't associate with someone who came two years ago from Africa I'm OK'," she said.

Denial

Ms Kawonza believed some of the stigma attached to HIV and Aids in African communities stemmed from the tone of Aids awareness campaigns in some parts of Africa.

"The association with promiscuity which has been the main focus of all HIV campaigns in Africa is very judgemental and some people will try to exclude themselves from those people who are bad"

Clay Ujanga
Clay Ujanga: 'Denial is widespread'

"So it becomes very difficult when someone who may view themselves as being good, upright and respectable suddenly finds they are HIV positive"

She added the stigma made it more difficult for people to come forward for treatment.

That point was echoed by Aids outreach worker, Clay Ujanga who works for an African health charity, Ahead.

"Many people with HIV live in denial so a person could have lived with it for a long time until their immune system is affected that's when they come to us," he said.

And he welcomed the Terrence Higgins Trust's campaign to remove the stigma, saying it had been done successfully in his native Uganda.

"You find most people in Uganda now will talk about HIV, they know about it and what to do.

"But in the African community over here it's like a new thing because they haven't promoted awareness to the community," he said.

The campaign which begins next month is centred around a series of posters depicting images linked to racism and segregation.

Liz Kawonza said the principal target area would be London where most Africans lived but other areas with large African communities like Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Leeds would also be included.

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See also:

10 Mar 01 | Health
HIV: African perspective
10 Jul 00 | Health
Aids effect 'like Black Death'
27 Nov 98 | Aids
Campaign to cut stigma of Aids
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