The Epidemic of Fear, Stigmatization, and Discrimination

By Mariati Messinger

Millions of HIV positive individuals around the world face some type of stigma in their lives.  This creates a huge burden on the individual undermining his/her protection against the disease.  Stigma can be seen from family members, hospital staff, government officials, and throughout their community.

Most HIV positive individuals fear rejection from others. This could lead them to losing their jobs, homes, and status. This is called self-stigma. Where they blame themselves for catching the disease and that you deserve to be punished. This damages the individual’s mental well-being which expedite the silence and shame surrounding the disease.

The government can also play a role in social stigma concerning HIV. They have the power to assign laws and policies to exclude infected individuals from participating in certain daily activities. The U.S HIV immigration Ban and travel restrictions were signed into law in 1993 by the Clinton Administration. Until 2010 the ban was finally lifted.

Though healthcare workers provide life-saving treatment to those infected with HIV, there are some instances where confidentiality is leaked which is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA). Some patients may not want to disclose their personal information and employment, e.g. being a sex-worker for fear of being judged and discriminated.

More importantly social stigma concerning HIV/AIDS hinders the individual from getting tested, disclosure of their status, and to cooperate with public health officials.

The prevalence of negativity and misconceptions is mainly due to the lack of education among the community.

Many people believe that those with HIV are a public health risk. But in fact, it cannot be picked up during day-to-day contact and implementing universal precautions are enough to protect healthcare workers. You can prevent passing on HIV to sexual partners by using condoms. Mother-to-child transmission of HIV can be prevented in nearly all cases with the right treatment and care.

Stigma is powerful, painful, and often confusing because it resonates with our own internal fears. Overcoming it takes persistence, courage, a strong sense of self, and a willingness to work with others.

HIV/AIDS can infect anyone. Stigma is not the cure. So instead show your solidarity to those living with HIV by giving them the love and acceptance they need and educate others on the facts about the disease. We cannot allow discrimination to win.