Tanzania must end HIV ‘red ribbon’ stigma in schools

The reported decision by several Tanzanian schools to force HIV-positive pupils to wear red ribbons to class has prompted Amnesty International to caution against stigmatization of those suffering from the disease.The headmaster at one of the schools in the Kibaha district says it was done at the parents’ request to excuse sick children from strenuous activities.“The suggestion that forcing HIV-positive children to wear red ribbons will protect them is ludicrous,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s Legal and Policy Director.“HIV status is an entirely private matter until a person decides to share it with others. Children who are HIV-positive can live healthy and active lives if they are given the right care – stigmatizing them in this manner and leaving them open to abuse is deeply misguided.“It’s likely to result in further discrimination and mean that people will decide to not get tested for HIV. Overall, it could lead to reduced access to the health services people need.“The Tanzanian authorities must launch an investigation into why this was allowed to happen and bring in fresh initiatives to educate people about stigmatizing those with HIV.”According to UNAids, some 1.4m people – about 5% of the population – in Tanzania are living with HIV. Around 160,000 children under the age of 14 are HIV positive.