Stigmatisation of HIV-positive women in Algeria: “HIV = whore”

AIDS screening test center in Algeria. Photo credit : Onusida / Getty images.

AIDS screening test center in Algeria. Photo credit : Onusida / Getty images.

By Isma Hassaine- Poirier, Staff Writer

In 2012, an American study led by Pr Amy Adamczyk and published in the American Sociological Review, showed that the predominance of certain religions in some countries can play a significant role in slowing down certain health issues. The study concluded, for example, that in Muslim countries sexual intercourse before marriage was practiced more rarely and therefore AIDS was less prominent in Muslim communities than in others. 

While this is irrefutably an interesting and valid point, it seems insufficient to analyze the status of AIDS in Muslim countries as a whole. Let us take Algeria as an example. As it is a Muslim country, the conclusion of this American study would certainly apply here. But there is another very important effect to take into consideration in the correlation between AIDS and Muslim religion. The Algerian society is highly conservative and Muslim values are widespread across many aspects of people’s life. AIDS is regarded as a shameful disease to say the least and it is very often associated with prostitution, infidelity or promiscuous life. Families tend to hide the seropositivity of a relative and lie about the cause of the person’s death when deceased or leave it unclear.

This leaves a big question mark about the real number of HIV-positive people in Algeria and leads to HIV-positive women being stigmatised and rejected by their community. They do not dare to go to medical facilities close to their home, afraid to be recognized, and run a high risk of not receiving the regular treatment and medical follow-up they should get.  

In 2014, 845 HIV cases were registered, 410 of them being women. It is estimated that around 30 000 people suffer from AIDS in Algeria, although only 10 000 are aware of their condition. 

‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself [...] including [...] medical care’ says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in article 25. The stigma and prejudice endured by HIV-positive women in Algeria violate the fundamental right to safe medical care for everyone. 

The Oran-born association APCS (Association de Protection Contre le Sida - Hak El Wikaya) is campaigning since 1998 to raise awareness and educate the population about AIDS. APCS opened the first free and anonymous AIDS screening test center in Algeria. APCS offers a safe place for HIV-positive women to exchange, share their feelings and meet doctors who can help them take control of their disease. This is a place for hope where there is no room for prejudice and judgment. The problem is not so much medical as it is societal. People’s ways of seeing AIDS need to change. This is the unquestionable condition for a real shift in the care of AIDS and HIV-positive patients in Algeria.