Picture: Piyal Adhikary/EPA

Johannesburg - Although South Africa had made strides in the the fight against HIV/Aids through the biggest treatment programme in the world, stigma continued to hold back progress in eliminating the disease, the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) said on Thursday.

December 1 marks World Aids Day globally.

“Despite all the achievements made against this epidemic, the stigma and discrimination continue to undermine the efforts of prevention, treatment and care to the people living with HIV/Aids. It builds devastating consequences to the affected and infected parties more than the illness itself and may mean abandonment by a partner or family, social exclusion, job and property loss, school expulsion, denial of medical services, lack of care and support and violence for those affected by them,” the union said on Thursday. “These consequences, or fear of them mean that people are less likely to go for HIV testing, disclose their HIV status to others, adopt HIV preventive behaviour or access treatment and support.”

According to Statistics South Africa, an estimated 6.2 million people were living with HIV in 2015.

South Africa has the biggest HIV/Aids treatment programme in the world, followed by India. Nehawu said prevention programmes at workplaces was important and should enable a non-discriminatory environment for those affected by the disease.

“HIV programmes should address issues of stigma and discrimination against those infected and those who still remain vulnerable of socio-economic and socio-cultural practices such as women, children and other marginalised groups in society.”

“World AidsDay 2016 is an opportunity for all our members and staff to remind themselves that HIV is still a reality and that it is incumbent on all of us to continue fighting prejudice, stigma and discrimination.”