The question of attitude is one of the greatest and perhaps the most worrying problems related to HIV/AIDS. We need to consider our personal attitude, and the attitudes of others, towards the disease and those suffering from the disease. What is your attitude to those who have been infected?
Attitude refers to our way of thinking, our set ways of behaviour and our personal opinions relating to specific issues such as HIV/AIDS. When applied to people living with HIV/AIDS it refers to how we perceive such individuals in terms of our personal thinking. We are all set in our ways. We have well defined thoughts and opinions established and developed over many years. These attitudes or opinions stem from the values and morals that have been instilled in us from childhood. We have inherited many if not all from our parents, teachers and peers. Our attitudes were developed over a period of time. They stem from our upbringing. Attitudes are based on principles and are influenced by the environment we live and work in. Attitudes can be influenced by Personal, Religious, Cultural, Legal and Environmental factors.
What is your attitude towards war? What are your attitudes towards religion, race, employment equity, and other such issues? You probably have very clearly defined thoughts on these subjects or have adopted a particular and specific stance on them.
What about HIV/AIDS - Have you formed personal opinions?
These opinions are either positive or negative. They determine your thinking, your feelings and your behaviour towards people who are living with HIV/AIDS. In other words you have a specific attitude towards HIV and AIDS.
Our attitude towards theft, fraud and murder is that they are not acceptable. We do not condone or accept such acts. The law forbids these acts. They are unacceptable in all religious denominations and in most cultures. Such acts are against all our moral and ethical beliefs.
Is it right for a man to beat his wife? The law says no but in certain cultures it is acceptable.
Is sex between same sex individuals permitted? The answer again depends on religious belief, cultural background, personal feelings on the issue, and the law of specific countries. What is right for one may not be right for another!
Accepting an HIV positive person into our circle of friends and offering support and understanding will depend on our personal feelings on the issue.
We are entitled to our opinions, but in order to formulate non-prejudicial or non-discriminatory opinions we need to understand the facts relating to a particular issue. Once we have established the facts we can make judgements and decisions based on these facts. It is easier to judge and condemn a person who is HIV positive or who has AIDS than it is to reach out with understanding and acceptance. We like to believe that such a person is reaping just reward for their promiscuous behaviour. We also like to think that something of this nature could never happen to us because we know how to behave. This may well be true but none of us can foretell the future.
We need to remember that we have no idea of what lies ahead or what might be around the next corner. We have no idea of what might befall us, or when we might have a need for someone's compassion and understanding.
The only way we can formulate opinions and adopt a specific attitude is by putting ourselves in the other person's position. What if I was HIV positive or had AIDS? How would I feel?
This requires that we make no decision or judgement until we understand and are aware of all the facts. Too often in life people make judgements based on hearsay and not fact. We should try to understand the other person from their perspective and their point of view. Only then can we decide on how we would like others to react and how we would like them to treat us. It is so easy to fall into the trap of becoming self-opinionated and self-righteous.
In order to gain a better understanding of attitude it is important to understand some of the factors that influence attitude.
A biased, unfair or unreasonable opinion of someone or something, especially when formed without enough thought or knowledge. People have been turned away from health care services, denied employment and shunned by friends even when they are only suspected of being HIV positive.
A feeling that other people have a bad opinion of you or do not respect you. There is a stain placed on your good name. Stigmatism describes "a process of discrediting an individual or group in the eyes of others". A stigma devalues the person rather than a specific action.
The fear of the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS may prevent people from having an HIV test and from seeking treatment. This fear may prevent a person from acknowledging his or her own HIV status. The lack of knowledge on the subject will lead to the HIV positive or AIDS victim being stigmatised or branded. How often have you heard of others not wanting to allow their children to have contact with an HIV positive person? How many people have ended the services of their maid when it was discovered that he/she was HIV positive? Are you willing to be friends with an HIV positive person or with a victim of AIDS? It is the stigma attached to the illness that causes us to feel and think in this manner. The stigma exists in most cases due to ignorance about the illness. Once the stigma exists then the tendency is to discriminate against these people. They are ill and are seen to be untouchable. We incorrectly believe they have a disability that can be spread by touch, by drinking out of the same cup, if they sneeze. We treated them like lepers with a highly infectious disease.
This refers to action taken against a person or group because of perceived differences such as race, religion or disability. Segregation, rejection and violence are forms of discrimination as is any action that treats a person or group of people differently from anyone else.
The constitutional court has ruled "the right to equality is violated whenever a person is treated differently in a way that is unfair". When a person with HIV/AIDS is treated differently because of his/her HIV status, it is considered unfair discrimination and may provide grounds for legal action.
Culture, religion and gender issues
Ethical and cultural factors are all closely related to religious beliefs and play an important role in determining attitude. The expectations relating to sexual practices within an ethnic or cultural group are important factors in HIV prevalence. A number of cultural practices contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS. These include male circumcision, rites of marriage, and indigenous healing practices.
Probably the most important factor driving the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is the fact that women are powerless to protect themselves from infection. Most women exist in a society where men dominate, sometimes by force. This domination is encouraged by the women’s acceptance of their position in society. The result is that women are subject to all manner of abuse by men. Women are subject to neglect, rape, incest, domestic violence, child labour, prostitution, economic abuse and even slavery.
This attitude towards women is at the very centre of people’s lives in Africa and is seen in relationships with parents, children, siblings and lovers.
Religion may influence HIV prevalence, especially where the religion imposes a strong code of acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviour. Islam, for example, prohibits sex outside of marriage. Muslims consequently have had some protection from HIV/AIDS. It is often within these strict confines that there is greater prejudice and discrimination practised against those who are HIV infected.