Bosnia and Herzegovina: A step to end stigma over HIV


The stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS is enormous in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: Katie Harbath

Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a milestone in its effort to end HIV-related stigma and discrimination when a baby was born via C-section in January to HIV-positive parents in Sarajevo.

Highlights

  • A US $40 million Global Fund grant administered by UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been focusing on preventing and treating HIV/AIDS since 2006
  • HIV prevalence among the general population is now below 1% and is less than 5% in any higher-risk population for HIV infection
  • Through UNDP support, 22 centres were established across the country, which provide free, confidential HIV testing for all
  • Awareness and advocacy campaigns helped place HIV/AIDS at the centre of national planning and budgets, and resulted in the adoption of a national strategy by the Council of Ministers in September 2011

“We all know how much blood there can be when a caesarean 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 stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS is enormous.

In an age of advanced medicine, including antiretroviral therapy, people living with HIV face greater difficulty coping with stigma and discrimination than they do maintaining their health, according to health experts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Stigmatization is particularly entrenched in the health sector.

'I have lived to see the day'

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,” she said.

Through support, counseling and effective 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.”

With 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.

“It is our mission to ensure that all citizens can lead dignified lives,” said Zahira Virani, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “My heart is filled with joy for the parents who thought a couple of years ago that something like this was not possible. This is a big step for the health services – and for Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole.”

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

“We hope that the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS will disappear completely,” he said. “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.”

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With the financial support of the Global Fund, Bosnia and Herzegovina continues the fight against Tuberculosis, the world's second most deadly infectious diseases among adults, after HIV/AIDS.

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