Teachers living with HIV are trapped in a whirlwind of unfair treatment at the hands of colleagues in the workplace, where they are often ostracised and stigmatised. File picture
Teachers living with HIV are trapped in a whirlwind of unfair treatment at the hands of colleagues in the workplace, where they are often ostracised and stigmatised. File picture

HIV positive teachers are ostracised, stigmatised at work - study

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published Apr 30, 2019

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Teachers living with HIV are trapped in a whirlwind of unfair treatment at the hands of colleagues in the workplace, where they are often ostracised and stigmatised.

A study by Zvisinei Moyo and Juliet Perumal from the University of Johannesburg has revealed that school staff-rooms remain hubs of stigmatisation against teachers living with HIV.

Titled "Challenges faced by teachers living with HIV", the study has been published in the first edition of the prestigious South African Journal of Education.

The authors based their study on interviews with eight teachers living with HIV in Gauteng.

South Africa was believed to have made inroads into the stigmatisation of people living with HIV. However, the research indicateds that schools are still sites of stigma.

Going into Workers' Day, celebrated on Wednesday the findings of the study could give unionists pointers on some of the pressing issues that need to be addressed in the workplace for improvement of working conditions.

The study stressed that the unfair discrimination and unfair treatment of teachers living with HIV made workplaces unbearable for them.

“Teachers living with HIV felt they were not protected from discrimination at work, or treated as individuals amid the sensitivity of HIV/Aids,” the study found.

“With an ever-increasing number of teachers contracting HIV, the level of absenteeism is on the rise, which causes poor academic achievement.

“This research study confirms that teachers living with HIV experience challenges that result in negative consequences, leading to them being unable to perform their tasks as teachers at an optimal level,” the authors said.

Isolation and stigmatisation were the common experiences of the eight teachers interviewed.

“Being stigmatised and isolated has seen me being undermined and not being listened to, even if I have a point to make. I am always taken for granted,” one teacher told the researchers.

Another said fellow teachers isolated her after her health had deteriorated. “I experienced a great deal of depression and anxiety. I lost a lot of weight. I was not in a position to eat,” said the teacher.

“I have been isolated by colleagues and even by the school management team, who felt I could not cope with school duties due to the fact that sometimes I don’t come to work.”

Said another: “I eat alone. I avoid trouble.”

The level of gossip in staffrooms has not helped teachers living with HIV.

“I was very sick (and) colleagues at work were not that supportive. All they could do was gossip about my health and diagnose what could be the illness,” said a teacher.

One teacher decried that she was judged after the school principal disclosed her status to colleagues.

“In my case, it is not good enough that the principal spread the news about my HIV status and my anxiety. My colleagues have used this to judge me,” she said.

“I have lost my dignity. My colleagues undermine me, and think that I deserve my HIV status. Stigma might contribute to the deterioration of your health and you are psychologically affected.”

Moyo and Perumal pointed out that the principal might have informed other teachers so that they could render support. 

“Unfortunately, they judged the teacher, leading to psychological stress.”

The study urged principals to ensure work environments were supportive of HIV-positive teachers.

“School principals are major players in creating a supporting environment for teachers living with HIV. Principals need to influence the change of beliefs about Aids among their teachers.

"School heads can achieve this through a strong joint venture with other community stakeholders, and collaborate with other departments.

“Principals need to encourage teachers to utilise available support programmes, for example voluntary testing, counselling and treatment. Principals may be required to encourage teachers to disclose their HIV status so that they are correctly referred for support.”

The study also, interestingly, comes at a time when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revealed data showing that the number of teachers who were absent from school on a daily basis had risen from 8% to 10%.

“This is deeply troubling. We must do more to support our teachers. There’s a need to drill deeper into the statistics to understand this leave of absence phenomenon,” Motshekga told journalists.

@BonganiNkosi87

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