Reducing HIV stigma through economic empowerment

Despite advances in treatment and education, HIV remains a highly stigmatized disease in sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV-positive people often experience social isolation and exclusion. The Bixby Center’s FACES program has developed a promising initiative that uses economic empowerment to change how Kenyans living with HIV see themselves and are seen by others.

Shamba Maisha participants with farming tools
The initiative, known as Shamba Maisha (“farming life”), gives small agricultural loans and training to HIV-positive people living in rural, farming-dependent communities in Kenya. These people are typically excluded from farming because of misperceptions that they are unfit for labor or undeserving of access to communal resources, such as land or tools.

By enabling HIV-positive people to become part of the farming economy, Shamba Maisha has changed those perceptions. One year after beginning the program, participants whose peers used to describe them as “lifeless” and “worthless” are now seen as “like any other person” and “productive.” They also report feeling greater self-esteem and more hope.

As improved HIV treatments continue to extend lives, our focus must shift from simply helping people survive with HIV to helping them thrive. In order to do that, we need to look beyond health care interventions, to social and economic ones, too. Shamba Maisha is a great start.