Eighteen million people around the world live with HIV but do not know they are infected, while over thirty six million people are currently receiving treatment for this terrible disease.
HIV/AIDs remains one of the world’s most significant public health challenges, particularly in low and middle income countries. But right now, the biggest obstacle to tackling HIV isn’t the drugs, it’s the prejudice.
HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV and AIDS.
The consequences of these are disastrous. People are often shunned by family, friends, and their communities, while others suffer from neglect by the governments and public healthcare systems. Their access to HIV testing, treatment, and other medical services is severely limited, because their governments prefer to ignore the issue, rather than face the facts.
There is a treatment for AIDS – it’s not incurable. And as a result of recent advances in medicine, the therapy (ART) is widely available. HIV-positive people now live longer and healthier lives, and it has been confirmed that the treatments prevents transmission of HIV. People undergoing the treatment are not even contagious anymore. So why is there so much stigma surrounding the disease?
It’s important to remember that HIV isn’t just found in LEDCs – it’s everywhere. And that means that the prejudice is everywhere too. One third of people living with HIV in the UK have experienced discrimination, and half of these instances involved healthcare workers. Doctors and nurses, the very people who we should feel safe with, are involved in the prejudice against HIV. And the cause of it all is lack of knowledge.
Significantly fewer people were able to identify the ways in which HIV is transmitted in a survey in 2007 compared with a survey in 2000, and these figures only keep getting worse.
Furthermore, this inaccurate information feeds the stigma surrounding HIV, which puts people at risk of further discrimination. Lots of people believe that HIV is associated with behaviours that people disapprove of (like homosexuality, drug use, sex work, or infidelity) and through this that HIV infection is the result of personal irresponsibility.
More education is needed to tackle the root causes of prejudice. We all have a duty to educate ourselves, the people around us, and especially the younger generation. Prejudice only thrives for as long as we try to pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s time we come together to face the problems that we’ve caused.
December 1st is World Aids Day. Wear a red ribbon and show your support for those infected with HIV. Take this opportunity to raise awareness.
Help us fight the prejudice.