Having HIV and Aids can make a person more vulnerable to stigma and prejudice, but there are effective ways to end the cycle. Try these tips to become an ally of those living with this chronic condition.
Stigma happens when we look down on a person or group, because of an unfair, negative prejudice we hold against them. Stigma can lead to discrimination as it could result in the unjust treatment of these persons. Discrimination may take many forms, including:
- verbal and physical abuse
- isolation or exclusion
- denial of services and employment
- ridicule (e.g. taunting or gossip)
People living with HIV or Aids face other kinds of stigma apart from the above, and men and women may experience it differently. For example, women with HIV or Aids may be shamed based on the assumption they contracted it from having multiple partners, while men’s infection may be blamed on them having sexual intercourse with men.
What is the impact of HIV-related stigma?
According to research found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website, Aids-related stigma has a negative impact particularly on physical and mental health. This includes higher rates of depression, hopelessness, anxiety and a lower rate of adherence to treatment (e.g. taking medication as prescribed).
The self-image and esteem of HIV and Aids sufferers or those who suspect they have contracted it are affected. This may make them hesitant to get tested, seek treatment and use prevention tools, as they fear discrimination. They may also avoid talking openly about their status.
Make a difference
There is no cure for HIV and Aids. However, treatment, prevention, diagnosis and care have improved drastically. This has made this chronic condition more manageable and easier to live with, but the stigma is still harmful. Here are some ways you can help:
Hold yourself accountable. Unlearn the views of HIV and Aids you’ve absorbed from social media or your circles and educate yourself with the facts. If anyone in your community or social circles gossips or shares misinformation about Aids or someone living with the condition, correct them.
Share and access accurate information. Misinformation can put others at risk, so only use and share links to reputable organisations for HIV and Aids-related information. Good options for trustworthy information include:
- World Health Organization
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- World Aids Day
Mind your language. Certain words or phrases can contribute to HIV and Aids stigma, so it’s important to be thoughtful when choosing your words. For example:
- Instead of ‘HIV patient’, you could say ‘person with HIV’.
- Instead of ‘war against HIV and Aids’, you could say ‘response to HIV and Aids’.
- Instead of ‘catch HIV’, you could say ‘diagnosed with HIV’.
Find more language tips on the CDC website.
Provide actionable support. There are many ways to help people living with HIV and Aids, including volunteering for organisations that support affected people, making donations and giving those living with the condition a voice. Some organisations you can support are:
- Desmond Tutu Health Foundation. Make donations or become a volunteer.
- Aids Foundation South Africa. Make donations and join the community work programme, where you can help with social projects. This may involve setting up gardens, assisting at schools, doing repairs in clinics and classrooms and helping children and orphans.
Due to COVID-19 regulations, you may not be able to physically volunteer in some cases, but you can still make a difference. Use your social media platforms to share accurate information, which can be circulated online. Monetary donations are also encouraged, as they can help vulnerable communities.
For more advice related to HIV, Aids and other sexually transmitted conditions, read these helpful articles:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Ways to Stop HIV Stigma and Discrimination. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/stophivtogether/hiv-stigma/ways-to-stop.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fstophivtogether%2Fcampaigns%2Fhiv-stigma%2Fstop-hiv-stigma%2Findex.html [9 November 2021]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). HIV Stigma and Discrimination. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-stigma/index.html [9 November 2021]
- Avert. (2019). HIV Stigma and Discrimination. [online] Available at: https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/stigma-discrimination [9 November 2021]