PAKWACH. People living with HIV/ Aids in Pakwach district have expressed concern over an increase in community stigma that is affecting the progress of different groups initiated to boost their welfare.

The groups that are scattered in the rural villages of the district were formed with the objectives of bringing together the patients and creating self-reliance but now are on the brink of collapse as some members have shunned them due to stigma from the community.

According to Mr Godfrey Ocakacon, the district chairperson of people living with HIV, all the six community groups are grappling with the stigma that has also resulted in fear of disclosure of HIV status by those newly infected.

The situation has now instilled fear in the HIV positive existing patients and made them begin getting antiretroviral drugs from other districts, a situation that is economically unfriendly to the patients.

He said the collapse of the community groups at the infantry stage will affect lobbying and attraction of resources from Non-governmental organisations to the grassroots as the district will lack documentation of their existence.

"We had registered significant improvement in the membership of the groups but as I talk, the groups are almost no more and the reason is rampant stigma by our members and these groups strengthened us financially and also enabled us to track one another on how we were adhering to the drugs", he said.

Ocakacon added that the vice has mainly crippled the vulnerable widows and orphans who are struggling to feed and ably take their drugs.

In the groups, members are required to contribute money into a common pool in the form of cooperative saving and credit organization and share it at the end of every year to improve their economic welfare.

At "Kur mi iwi yi" group, which literally translates "wait on your behalf", initiated in 2008 mainly by women living with HIV, Ms Jessica Aboko the group’s leader said the stigma has not only affected the group but also their families.

"Whenever we are for our group meetings, the community keeps pointing at us that those are the people having AIDS and our children in the community are equally suffering the same", she said.

She continued "All these need courage and I have counseled our group members that there are many deadly diseases like hepatitis B, and of late Covid-19, there should be nothing to worry about when you take your drugs well and avoid stress from the public, you live longer", Aboko added.

She wants the government to increase awareness campaigns through community dialogue about the relevance of freely associating with HIV Aids positive people and strengthen their associations without any form of discrimination.

However, Mr Geoffrey Wuna, the district HIV focal person said through different public platforms like radio talk shows, they have always counseled the locals; he encouraged the groups to strengthen their associations through enrolling new members.

In 2009, Pakwach district's main Art clinic was shunned by the people living with HIV/Aids due to stigma whenever they visited it to access services and demanded its enclosure that was swiftly adhered to conclusively protect their privacy.