HIV AIDS Stigma and education

AIDS Discrimination and Stigma

AIDS Discrimination and Stigma

What’s Behind AIDS Discrimination and Stigma?

Many factors can lead to AIDS discrimination and stigma:

  • HIV is a deadly disease that many people fear.
  • Some adults in the U.S. still wrongly believe that they can catch HIV through casual contact, such as sharing a drinking glass or touching a toilet seat. This greatly increases their fear about being near people who are HIV positive.
  • Many people connect HIV and AIDS with behaviors that are already stigmatized, such as sex between gay individuals or injecting drugs.
  • Some people believe that having HIV or AIDS is the person’s own fault. For example, they might think it’s the result of moral weakness and deserves to be punished.

Unfortunately, AIDS discrimination and stigma also fuels the epidemic. It prevents people from talking about their HIV status with sex partners or people with whom they share needles. Fear of rejection and worries about confidentiality also prevent many from getting tested for HIV. This means they may spread HIV to others without knowing it.

HIV-related stigma refers to negative beliefs, feelings and attitudes towards people living with HIV, their families and people who work with them. HIV stigma often reinforces existing social inequalities based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and culture. Stigma against many vulnerable populations who are disproportionately affected by HIV (such as the stigma of homosexuality, drug use, poverty, migration, transgender status, mental illness, sex work and racial, ethnic and tribal minority status) predates the epidemic and intersects with HIV stigma, which compounds the stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV (PLWH) who belong to such groups.

HIV-related discrimination, also known as enacted HIV stigma, refers to the unfair and unjust treatment of someone based on their real or perceived HIV status. Discrimination also affects family members and friends, caregivers, healthcare and lab staff who care for PLWH. The drivers of HIV-related discrimination usually include misconceptions regarding casual transmission of HIV and pre-existing prejudices against certain populations, behaviors, sex, drug use, illness and death. Discrimination can be institutionalized through laws, policies and practices that unjustly affect PLWH and marginalized groups.