HIV and Stigma: A Birth Ushers in New Era for B&H

January 31, 2014 2:02 PM

UNDP_HIVStory3

By: Pavle Banjac, UN Communications Officer

When a mother gave birth in Sarajevo earlier this month, Bosnia and Herzegovina entered a new era in its efforts to end the stigma faced by people living with HIV.

The baby is the first born to HIV-positive parents in Sarajevo. She was delivered by cesarean section.

“We all know how much blood there can be when a cesarean section is performed, but there was no hesitation or discrimination here,” said Vesna Hadžiosmanović, Head of the HIV/AIDS Department at the Clinic for Infectious Diseases in Sarajevo. “The team of doctors did an excellent job.”

The baby is healthy and HIV negative.

At 245, the number of people living with HIV in Bosnia and Herzegovina is small. But the impact of people’s perceptions is enormous.

In an age of advanced medicine including anti-retroviral therapy, people living with HIV face greater difficulty coping with stigma and discrimination than with maintaining their health. Stigmatization is particularly entrenched in the health sector.

Not a moment too soon

The baby’s mother was only 21 years old when she found out that she was HIV positive, according to Hadžiosmanović . “She thought her whole world would collapse when she found out that she had been infected by her boyfriend.”

Through support, counseling and proper treatment, her condition stabilized. The woman eventually married her boyfriend, graduated from college, found a job and decided to have a child.

“I am so happy today,” she said one day after the birth.

“I have lived to see the day. If I had known that all this would go so well and flawlessly, I would have taken this step much earlier,” she said.

Through UNDP support, and funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been focusing on preventing and treating HIV/AIDS since 2006. The country has organized educational programmes to reduce HIV-related stigma, particularly in the health sector.

According to Zahira Virani, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, “It is our mission to ensure that all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina can lead dignified lives.”

“My heart is filled with joy for the parents who thought a couple of years ago that something like this would not be possible. This is a big step for the health services – and for Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole,” said Virani.

Zulfo Godinjak, the doctor who delivered the baby, expects more HIV-infected couples to have children.

“We hope that the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS will disappear completely. When these patients are under constant medical care and therapy, they are no different from patients with tuberculosis or any other disease.”

“It is time we all began treating them as such”, he said.

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