It was a sad day, wasn’t it? For the staunch followers and supporters of my favorite Kenyan comedian Eric Omondi, when rumors leaked out that he was HIV+. The drama that followed after the rumors, like the withdrawal of some endorsements that he was expecting, is what amazed me completely on the state of matters of human rights ignorance among the endorsers and we as artists and entertainers in general. Although it was later realized as just another prank to sabotage the comedian’s efforts , just like the crocodile’s pose with its mouth wide open attracting flies into it, that was an open act of discrimination on the part of HIV/AIDS victims.
In this age and time we must be able to openly reject any myths and misconceptions and fight unnecessary HIV/AIDS related discrimination and stigma. The people in positions of authority have to accept the reality of HIV in our communities, and recognize the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is another killer disease which requires management and daily medication just like cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, asthma, ulcers etc. The difference with HIV is that it impacts greatly on the individual’s social identity and sometimes integrity. According to UNAIDS’ HIV/AIDS HUMAN RIGHTS YOUNG PEOPLE IN ACTION TRAINING KIT – “Lack of recognition of human rights not only causes unnecessary personal suffering and loss of dignity for people living with HIV or AIDS but it also contributes directly to the spread of the epidemic since it hinders the response. For example, when human rights are not respected, people are less likely to seek counseling, testing, treatment and support because it means facing discrimination, lack of confidentiality or other negative consequences”. If I try to picture the whole scene at the time, it must have been a very trying moment for the comedian both psychologically and socially. The business entity went ahead to give him an economical blow at that same trying moment and if the guy was really infected then he would be seeing his whole world fall down and all his dreams and ambitions thrown to the sharks with betrayal from those that he trusted all along! If he was the breadwinner in the family both extended and nuclear, then the betrayal would affect so many people close to him as well as the people working in the same industry who victims of HIV/AIDS. His right of employment had just been abused and he was discriminated against because of his perceived HIV status.
Link and Phelans theory of stigma states that “ stigma is the convergence of labeling, stereotyping, separation, and discrimination by a stigmatizer with access to social, political, and/or economic power”. In the case of Eric Omondi’s prank the endorsers should have known better with facts all over regarding care and support as well as nutrition and medication for those infected with the virus. They should have gone ahead and endorsed him while at the same time giving him psycho-social support and care to set a positive example to society and world in general but they did the exact opposite and set a negative precedent on perception in the media and entertainment industry for the millions of “victims” of the disease. Now an artist whose privacy has been violated and is perceived to be a carrier of the virus will find it very hard to survive in such murky waters of indecision and practical support for victims of HIV.
When a person is already laden with the mental trauma associated with the disease then you go ahead and give him a cold shoulder and turn him/her away you appear very hypocritical to everyone. Let me tell you this for sure. If you are not infected you are affected through someone close to you like a relative or friend so we are all involved in this. I challenge the endorsers to change their thinking so that everyone in the entertainment industry may show solidarity to fellow countrymen entertainers who are just victims of the disease and not criminals.