We may be well into the 21st century, but widespread stigma still exists around HIV/Aids – and, according to Huffington Post, may be even more dangerous than the disease itself.
Last year, Laura Derkson, Health Economist and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, pointed out that: “…in 2016 the stigma surrounding HIV is probably more life-threatening than HIV itself. The fear of being “outed” as HIV positive stops a lot of people from seeking treatment. A delay in treatment allows the virus to spread, and in many cases, leads to death.”
No truer are these words than here in South Africa, where fear breeds stigma, and stigma keeps HIV positive individuals on the outskirts of society, silent and terrified to seek treatment. And, in a vicious cycle, it’s this lack of treatment that continues to drive the spread of the disease through unprotected sex and mother-to-child transmission.
What is HIV stigma?
According to Avert.org, which provides information and education on HIV and Aids, “HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV and AIDS. In 35% of countries with available data, over 50% of people report having discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV.”
The article adds: “Stigma and discrimination also makes people vulnerable to HIV. Those most at risk to HIV (key affected populations) continue to face stigma and discrimination based on their actual or perceived health status, race, socioeconomic status, age, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity or other grounds.”
Why is HIV stigma so dangerous?
When it comes to HIV/Aids, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance can be deadly, and it’s bred from fear and an unwillingness to understand a disease that today is highly treatable – and avoidable.
HIV stigma is dangerous because it leads to harsh judgement by communities, families and friends. HIV stigma:
- Stops people from finding out their status. To avoid potentially being ostracised by their communities, people choose not to know their status – and continue to spread the disease.
- Prevents HIV positive individuals from seeking treatment that could prolong their lives and protect the lives of their sexual partners and/or unborn children.
- Makes people vulnerable to rejection and/or abuse by their friends, family and communities.
- Leads to people being denied medical treatment and care because of their HIV status.
- Leads to social, economic and legal marginalisation and discrimination, which leads to more people getting sick, fewer people getting treatment, and the vicious cycle continuing. Read more about how stigma leads to sickness in HIV Stigma and Discrimination.
Where to go for confidential and non-judgemental treatment and advice
At Marie Stopes, we know how important it is to get help you can trust. You’re assured of receiving confidential HIV screening and counselling at any of our centres across South Africa. You’ll always be treated in a caring, judgement-free environment, with access to all the information you need to manage your health as effectively as possible.
Whether you’re wanting to get screened for HIV and STIs, have questions about your health or simply need a non-judgemental person to hear you out, we’re here to help.