Tanzania joins the rest of the world this week to mark the World AIDS Day and this comes at a time when the country is said to be one of the 56 countries in the world that have managed to reverse new HIV/AIDS infections by more than 25percent between 2001 and last year.
This has been undoubtedly the fruits of the concerted efforts by the government and other players such as NGOs and civil societies. Measures such as promotion of condom use, advocating behavioural change and voluntary testing and counseling sessions are attributed to the changes towards a disease that is threatening human extinction.
Though there have been positive results in as far as reducing the infection rate is concerned, the continuous mystification of the disease that leads to stigma and discrimination among those living with the virus remains a cause for concern.
Stigma remains one of the major setbacks in the fight against this dreaded disease as those living with the virus are discriminated against, a move that has seen many people hiding their status, pretending that everything is well.
Last week, HIV and AIDS activists revealed that stigma and reluctance to behavior change were still a major setback in the campaign against spread of the disease. Ms Mwanaisha Ramadhani Kondo, Commissioner from the Zanzibar AIDS Commission (ZAC) was quoted as saying that, "Although we have managed to keep HIV/AIDS prevalence below one per cent, the risks to contract the disease remains high due to stigma and negligence."
Though the infection rate is said to be declining, reluctance to behaviour change by many people not only in this country but also the world over is counterproductive as it tends to reverse the gains made by those in the forefront of fighting the scourge. This is so despite the fact that everyone directly or indirectly has been affected by AIDS.
As we join the whole world in remembering all those who succumbed to the disease, it is vital that everyone in this country not only participates but comes back to the drawing board and consider changing our behaviour when it comes to HIV and AIDS.
On the other hand, since the disease has affected everyone, one way or the other, it is also important that those living with the virus are not segregated or discriminated against. Once we get rid of stigma and discrimination, then it will be easy to win the war against the disease as many people will be at liberty to come out in the open and tell the whole world that they have the virus.
The government and other stakeholders should continue playing their role not only in educating wananchi on various aspects of the disease, but also making sure that health service provision is improved. The general public on the other hand should play their part by ensuring behavioural change, fighting stigma and discrimination and keeping themselves and their loved ones safe.
Let's take this opportunity as a nation to come back to the drawing board and tackle all the problems bedeviling the fight against this killer disease. Together we can win this war.