Reducing and Stopping HIV Stigma and Discrimination

July 21, 2020
by John Kelly, MD
Reducing and Stopping HIV Stigma and Discrimination

When Princess Diana shook hands with an HIV-positive person in April 1987 without any gloves in front of the world’s media, it became the first step into changing the people’s attitudes towards HIV and AIDS.

All it took was a simple handshake to cause a stir during a time when education surrounding this disease is significantly lacking. The dated viewpoint was surrounded by fear so much that it was thought that a simple exchange could pass HIV or AIDS along. The discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community back then didn’t help either.

More than 30 years later, we have progressed medically that we can now understand the implications of HIV and AIDS. While the viewpoint around it is much better compared to Princess Diana’s time, we’re still got a long way to go to end the stigma and discrimination when it comes to HIV.

The conceptualization of stigma is deeply rooted in society but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything about it. Whether or not you’re diagnosed with HIV, it’s a cause that we all should contribute to. Here are some of the ways that you can help reduce and stop HIV stigma and discrimination:

1. Fight Misinformation with Facts

The majority of HIV stigma revolves around misinformation and miseducation. Currently, there are a lot of medical advancements that are slowly evolving to address HIV and AIDS and it’s important that those advancements are also reflected in our society.

That means that old myths and misconceptions that were birthed a long time ago because of a lack of medical understanding about HIV must be stopped. Some of the misconceptions and myths surrounding HIV are the following:

  • HIV is a death sentence. That may be true in the past, but thanks to modern treatment, HIV is now a manageable chronic illness. There are thousands of HIV-positive persons who live their lives with the same tenacity as HIV-negative persons. Early diagnosis and treatment are important when it comes to HIV.
  • HIV can be transmitted through saliva. A common misconception is that HIV can be transmitted through sharing cutleries, kissing, etc. HIV is not spread through saliva. Only some bodily fluids transmit HIV like blood, semen, vaginal fluids, etc.
  • Only gay people can get HIV. The concept that members of LGBTQIA+ community are the only ones who can get HIV and AIDS is a product of misinformation and other personal prejudice. While there key populations at higher risk of acquiring HIV, that doesn’t mean that those who are in the said community are automatically HIV-positive or those who don’t identify with the group can’t acquire HIV.

2. Become an Example of the Advocacy

Advocating to end the HIV stigma and discrimination means acting up your advocacy no matter what scale it is.

Actively share information about misconceptions in HIV and explain that talking about it should not be considered taboo. In fact, talking about HIV and AIDS should be considered normal the same way people talk about getting a fever or any form of disease and illness. That way, people will understand that HIV is just a disease and doesn’t define a person wholly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consolidated several common stigma scenarios and how you should react to it in order to reduce judgment and stigma. It’s highly recommended that you read it on their website and share it with others too.

3. Normalize What Should’ve Been Normalized

The big part of advocating for HIV awareness and ending the stigma is to normalize the things that should be normalized. This is important to be an example of especially in the youths and younger generation.

Let HIV become a normal discussion. That way, we are encouraging the spread of factual information and in turn, people would know more about what to do in order to prevent acquiring the disease. Such an example is taking an HIV test. For those who are misinformed or miseducated, getting tested for HIV can sometimes automatically mean that a person is promiscuous or already infected. However, it’s actually recommended by the medical community to regularly be tested for HIV no matter how frequent a person partakes in intercourse.

Information and understanding are the first few steps in tackling the HIV stigma. While these things may look like an insignificant contribution to a cause that’s complicated, it all starts with a small ripple to affect your community.


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