The fear of the HIV stigma

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Many are in fear of sharing their HIV status with others due to the negative stigmas.

Jamie Adams, Staff Writer

HIV, a human immunodeficiency virus, continues to be a major public health issue, affecting 77 million people worldwide and having claimed more than 35 million lives so far. However, with increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, the HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition. This outlook only remains positive for those who seek help. Many fear sharing their current medical status, including their doctors because of the HIV stigma. This can be fatal, but some would rather stay silent than tell others. 

Many try to hide their disease from others as they feel they will be discriminated against or judged negatively if their HIV status is revealed. Patrixia Santos, a worker in the Department of Health, states that, “At the end of the day, it’s not the virus or disease that kills people…it is the hatred and discrimination against them.” The shame and disgrace that society places on these people makes them feel like an outcast, causing them to refrain from telling anyone and not getting the help they need. 

People who are affected by this disease are stigmatized and are made to feel rejected by others.  Paige Zhang, a worker for the Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV project, states that, “Society groups individuals living with HIV as ‘those people,’ as if the disease makes them subhuman or different.” By verbally separating those who are impacted by the virus, makes them feel as if they are below everyone else.  

Portions of society who are uneducated about HIV develop false assumptions about this disease. This is often stimulated by the myths of transmission of HIV and pre-existing biases against certain groups. These misconceptions strengthen the stigma, further grouping them from others. 

This stigma essentially affects the emotional well-being and mental health of the individuals who have the disease. They often internalize the shame and begin to develop a negative self-image about themselves. This causes them to not seek help, which leads to many negative problems 

By not obtaining appropriate treatment, they have a higher risk of developing opportunistic infections (OIs), and sometimes different types of cancer. These infections occur more frequently due to their weakened immune systems and can be deadly. Different forms of medications and vaccinations provide the best chance of avoiding complications, with the help of the individual monitoring their health closely. 

They also must alter their previous daily routines by taking additional steps to stay healthy. These steps include, taking their medication, going to their checkups regularly, and eating a healthy diet. In order to keep the individuals in good health, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “people will need to take their medicines every day, exactly as their doctor recommends.” 

This stigma negatively affects the successfulness of living with HIV, as it decreases the amount of people who seek help. People with HIV should not have to fear revealing their illness to others, as it is common and does not define them.