It’s not uncommon to hear people say that the stigma around HIV is the most difficult thing about living with the virus.
There is still a lot of fear and misunderstanding about HIV. Many people living with HIV experience stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. As well as being hurtful, stigma can get in the way of preventing new transmissions. Some people are too scared to get tested, in case they have the virus.
Why is there stigma?
The fear surrounding HIV is a hang over from the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Little was known about HIV and how to prevent it. Some of the common myths about HIV are:
- HIV and AIDS are always associated with death.
- HIV is always associated with behaviours that some people don’t agree with (homosexuality, drug use, sex work).
- HIV is only transmitted through sex, which is taboo in some cultures.
- HIV is a result of someone’s personal or moral failure and they deserved to be punished.
These myths are simply wrong. They are also out of step with the values that hold us together as a community.
Let’s end stigma
You can help end HIV stigma by:
- Knowing the facts about HIV and challenge misunderstanding wherever you can.
- Educating others when the opportunity arises. People are most likely to be open to new information when they are presented with the facts in a respectful manner by someone they have a good relationship with.
- Chose your words carefully. For example don’t use terms like ‘clean’ to describe someone who does not have HIV. It implies that people who are living with HIV are ‘dirty’ which is untrue and shaming.
- Supporting people living with HIV in whatever social or practical way that you can.