Tanzanian pupils with HIV 'forced to wear ribbons'

A handful of Tanzanian schools have sparked outrage by forcing HIV-positive pupils to wear red ribbons to class.

Activists in the east African nation said at least seven schools in one district near the capital, Dodoma, were forcing children to publicly declare their status with a ribbon sewn on to their uniforms. "One's sickness is confidential unless one decides to share it with others," Rebecca Mshumbusi, of the Kibaha Association of People Living with HIV/Aids, told the BBC.

One headmaster claimed parents of the HIV-positive pupils had asked for their status be highlighted so they could be excused from strenuous activity. "Our school has pupils who are suffering from various diseases. The school and the society at large have decided to label pupils' uniforms," said Mohammed Lukema, the headmaster of Kibaha Primary School, adding that the students were excused from tasks such as sweeping and fetching water.

But Kate Iorpenda, a senior adviser at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, told The Independent: "This is completely abhorrent and under no circumstances could this approach be sanctioned. It is an abuse of the rights of these children and subjects them to stigma and discrimination, which is already a challenge for people ... with HIV.

"The suggestion that children who are HIV positive cannot undertake school activities is wrong. Children who are HIV positive can live healthy and productive lives with the right care, treatment and respect."