HIV stigma

A definition of stigma is: “The shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable.”

There may be a feeling of ‘us and them’. People who are stigmatised are marked out as being different and are blamed for that difference.

Despite medical advances in the treatment of HIV, the stigma surrounding HIV persists. Many people have fears, prejudices or negative attitudes about HIV. Stigma can result in people living with HIV being insulted, rejected, gossiped about and excluded from social activities. At its most extreme, stigma can drive people to physical violence

People living with HIV often feel nervous about telling others that they have HIV due to the fear of stigma or discrimination. Stigma, whether perceived or real, often fuels myths, misconceptions and choices, impacting people’s education and awareness. It can result in people with HIV believing some of the things that other people say about HIV, even when these are not true.

Stigma is often attached to things people are afraid of. Ever since the first cases of AIDS in the early 1980s, people with HIV have been stigmatised. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. If undiagnosed and unmanaged, HIV can still be a serious, life-threatening illness. There is a long history of illnesses being stigmatised – cancer and tuberculosis are two other examples;
  2. People who don’t understand how HIV is transmitted may be afraid of ‘catching’ it through social contact;
  3. Some people have strong views about sexual behaviour. They may think that there are situations in which sex is wrong or that certain people shouldn’t behave in particular ways; and
  4. The way people think about HIV depends on the way they think about the social groups that are most affected by HIV. Some people already have negative feelings about women, gay men, immigrants, black people, people who use drugs and others.

(Info source)

The Brunswick Centre knows from people living with HIV about the negative impact that stigma has on their lives. We also know that stigma can prevent people from coming forward to have HIV tests. We are committed to challenging stigma in our daily work and at a strategic level both locally and nationally.