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People’s perceptions of HIV/AIDS as portrayed by their labels of the disease: the case of Botswana

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It is typical of societies to come up with their own labels or names to any phenomenon that may befall them in the course of their life time. Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) has been no exception to this practice. In Botswana most of these labels are either in Setswana or English whereby an Eglish expression is simply adopted and used to refer to HIV/AIDS. This study looks at the different labels or names that have been used to refer to HIV/AIDS in Botswana. It is an attempt to provide insights into perceptions of HIV/AIDS by the local communities portrayed through the naming of this disease. The study demonstrates how, through the different labels, the local communities started in denial distancing themselves from this disease and in some cases associating AIDS with ailments already known to them, cultural practices and taboos. Some of these labels further demonstrate the negative attitudes that may have fuelled HIV-related stigma in the country. Based on the informants’ responses, the paper further attempts a categorisation of these labels influenced by different attitudes to HIV/AIDS, some of which are self-perpetuating and may continue to be a hindrance to the fight against the disease.


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