Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores current realities of HIV-stigma in post-conflict Acholiland in northern Uganda during an era of accessible anti-retroviral medication (ARVs). Anthropologists and global health scholars have typically offered a narrative about stigma as a “deeply discrediting” attribute that can, in the case of HIV-stigma, be reduced or eliminated by demystifying the infection and educating people about HIV transmission. What such scholars fail to understand and what this paper reveals, is how HIV-stigma in post-conflict northern Uganda, rather than a “thing” to be removed through education initiatives, is a social process borne, in part, out of a history of vastly uneven aid allocation. Between 1986 and 2006, almost 2 million Acholi people lived in just over 200 internally displaced persons (IDP) camps across northern Uganda as a sort of “forced protection” during Uganda’s long-running civil war. While almost all IDPs relied entirely on international humanitarian aid for survival, an HIV-positive diagnosis was one of the best means by which people could attract additional aid from donors. Even today, 13 years after the war and 14 years since accessible ARVs, HIV-positive people can still access aid more easily that others. However, because of ARVs, HIV-positive people don’t usually look sick nor do they often act sick. Consequently, HIV-positive people can sometimes face extreme forms of jealousy from HIV-negative people who may struggle just as much as those who are HIV-positive. Through deep ethnography, I show how stigma emerges amidst new ethical expectations for how HIV-positive people should behave in post-conflict Acholiland.