Understanding HIV stigma

It has been more than three decades since the world first heard of the terrifying infection which can destroy the part of the body designed to fight all diseases. HIV/AIDS was a frightening reality to wake up to not just for its sufferers and their families but for those who have never been infected by it as it led to fears of transmission.  One of the tragedies of HIV is that it does not just negatively affect the body; it negatively affects basic human interaction.


Throughout its short history people have often struggled to disassociate the disease from the sufferer. There have been many stereotypes that have been attached to people who have been infected by HIV. At its beginning in the 1980s, HIV was labelled the disease of the gays. This label provided justification to condemn homosexuality. Since then there has been an increase in education and awareness of the disease. However, there is still a belief that people who are HIV positive are or have been promiscuous at some point in their lives. While this is true in some cases, it is not true in others. HIV negative people who stay faithful to one partner may still be unknowingly infected by their partners. Not to mention that infection does not only occur during intercourse. Instances where someone is unwittingly infected by their partner are unfortunate and all too common. However, they also contribute to the prevailing negative perception of people with HIV. In recent years HIV transmission has become criminalised. Although this may seem like a good measure to prevent HIV transmission and curb new infections, it may alienate people who are already HIV positive and unintentionally transmit the disease to their partners. This is unfortunately not the only instance where legislation is enacted against people living with HIV; in many countries they face travel restrictions.  Could this be the institutionalisation of HIV stigma and discrimination?


Inasmuch attitudes that give rise to stigma are borne out of fear; those who are stigmatised are the bearers of the huge emotional and psychological burden. People who carry the HIV virus are no different from people who do not.  They long for fulfilling relationships and a respectable standing in their societies but in too many cases they cannot enjoy that if they disclose their status.

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Conference Date

13 July - 15 July 2017
University of Johannesburg- Institutional Office for HIV and AIDS (IOHA)


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