HIV/AIDS-related stigma can be described as a “process of devaluation” of people either living with or associated with HIV and AIDS. This stigma often stems from the underlying stigmatization of sex and intravenous drug use—two of the primary routes of HIV infection.
Everyone living with HIV has faced stigma at some point or another. This can come in many forms and can be expressed in may ways. Most of the time stigma is fueled by lack of education about the subject of HIV and AIDS. This starts with the education that youth receive in school (or lack there of) but also from within the home. Many of the parents today remember the early AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s and, from that, they have formed an ill based opinion about HIV and AIDS. It is these biased opinions that have been passed on from parents to their children. Unless we end the cycle, we will not be able to end the stigma.
Examples of HIV/AIDS stigma may include:
- The sharing of personal belongings such as towels, toothbrush or comb
- HIV living in the environment outside the body for seven days
- Mosquito bites
- HIV living in sweat and can be transmitted through sweat
- The sharing a bathroom or toilet with someone who is infected (as some people actually still) believe.
Each of these cases presents a myth that some still choose to believe because they remain uneducated on the subject. Ignorance about HIV is one of the leading causes of the stigma that surrounds it. HIV-related stigma and discrimination are pervasive and serve to only fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS. There is a need for increased levels of funding dedicated to strategic, coordinated, and comprehensive programs for stigma and discrimination on reduction.
So how can you help in the fight against HIV-related stigma? Well the best and most sure way is to know the facts. Educate yourself on the subject of HIV/AIDS and know what puts one at risk and what does not.
- Break the silence surrounding HIV stigma in our community. Talk about your experiences, fears and concerns about getting HIV or transmitting HIV with friends, a counselor, or someone you trust.
- Learn how to better cope and react when a person tells you he/she has HIV.
- Take responsibility for the prevention of HIV. The prevention of HIV is a responsibility that all people share – HIV-positive, HIV-negative and HIV status unknown.
- Challenge attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to HIV stigma. Don’t be a silent witness to it when it happens around you.
- Avoid using language that overtly stigmatizes others. Phrases such as “are you clean?” only serve to give the impression that someone HIV positive is some how “dirty”.
- Treat people with HIV as you would treat anyone else: with respect, empathy, and compassion.
- Get informed about how to protect yourself from HIV and be confident in that knowledge. We know how to prevent HIV.
- If you have difficulty playing safe, take charge of your sexual health and get the help you need to ensure you do not get infected with or transmit HIV.
If we all work together as a community, we will be able to erase the stigma that surrounds those living with the virus. It is through works such as ours here at A Positive Tomorrow that we strive to erase HIV-related stigma from the planet.