Stigma hampers our ability to fight every aspect of this disease
When people in general hear of HIV and AIDS, many things run through their minds: How did this person get HIV? What did they do wrong? Am I at risk just being around them? The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS plays the biggest role in this, for it has always been cast as an evil illness or the person is doing something wrong to have gotten HIV. Since HIV and AIDS was first discovered, people living with it have been mistreated, persecuted and shunned by society and family, forcing them into hiding and isolation.
There are many misunderstandings when it comes to HIV. People often believe it is a gay man’s disease or for people who use drugs. If it is a female, then she must be a sex worker. The worst, in my opinion, is that this is a punishment from God for not being holy. These things are not true. This is the stigma placed on people living with HIV. HIV does not discriminate; it touches everyone in some way. HIV is not a punishment from God. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system.
Fact: HIV is a virus and can lead to the body being attacked by opportunistic infections. Left untreated, it could lead to death. A person with a simple cold is more dangerous to the person with HIV than the person living with HIV is to the cold sufferer.
Fact: Someone living with HIV can live a normal life span. It is no longer an automatic death sentence. Proper nutrition and exercise, along with medication (if needed), will allow someone with HV to live a healthy, productive life.
Fact: Touching, kissing, sharing a drink or food with someone who is living with HIV will not transmit the virus. HIV is not airborne, nor is it contracted through simple touching or hugging.
Fact: There are 50,000 new cases of HIV every year in the U.S., and HIV has crossed every border and is in every country. HIV does not care about someone’s social or economic status, sexual orientation, race, age, drug use or religion. HIV can be transmitted to anyone who has at any time been in a situation that might have put him or her at risk.
Many things happen to someone when he first finds out he is living with HIV—from anxiety and depression to denial and isolation. The struggle is real. He fears friends and family will disown him or that he could lose his job, his marriage, his reputation, his sanity and his hope. These are real problems and they can be overwhelming at times.
Medical and social breakthroughs support the idea that stigma is not warranted, so why does it continue to plague people living with HIV? In my opinion, it is due to the fear of HIV and lack of education about the virus that keeps fueling the fires of hate and persecution. To ignore HIV does not make it go away; it just prolongs our inability to fight every aspect of this illness and its effects on our society.
Inner stigma can be even more devastating than what we are subjected to by society, the way we treat ourselves or think of ourselves. We may go into isolation and hide from the world due to our own fears and our overwhelming feelings of worthlessness. Thinking we are at fault or we somehow deserve this leads to depression and sometimes thoughts of hurting ourselves. Combining inner stigma with the stigma from society lead many to hide their status.
Every year there are 50,000 new cases of HIV diagnosed, and many of those cases do not fall into those “stereotypical groups.” We would be enraged if people diagnosed with cancer or diabetes were treated this way. Yet we find no fault with treating those living with HIV and AIDS in such a negative and horrific manner. Stop the stigma. Stop the pain.