What exactly is HIV stigma? HIV stigma is the negative attitudes and beliefs about people who are living with the virus. It’s the prejudice that comes with labeling an individual as part of a group that is believed to be social pariahs. Stigma leads to the bullying, harassment, and mistreatment of those living with HIV and those who are believed to have it because of the groups or communities they’re a part of. The fear, misinformation, and discrimination that comes with HIV can be a dangerous consequence for those who live with it daily. That’s why it is so important to stop the stigma and refute misinformation with facts.

Here are some examples of the type of stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV:

Belief

Believing that only certain groups of people can get HIV.

Behaviour

Making moral judgments about people who take steps to prevent HIV transmission.

Belief

Feeling that people deserve to get HIV because of their life choices.

Avoidance

A health care professional refusing to provide care or services to a person living with HIV.

Behaviour

Socially isolating a member of a community simply because they’re living with HIV.

Avoidance

Refusing casual contact with someone living with HIV — like not sharing food or drinks, or even shaking hands.

Behaviour

Referring to people as "HIVers", "positives", or other degrading labels

Fear surrounding HIV started back in the 1980s when there was little to no information surrounding it. The fear grew and spread, leading to rumors and misinformation that continue to come up even today, despite all the advances made in treatment and prevention. Not only has it led to society-based stigma, but also it affects individuals through "internalized stigma" in which an individual applies the negative stereotypes or ideas about HIV to themselves.

This can lead to feelings of shame, fear of sharing or disclosing their status, isolation, and depression. It’s one of the reasons why we see a resistance to seeking information or even testing for HIV. But we can stop this. By discussing HIV and taking action to share accurate information, we can show that HIV is NOT a stigma and anyone living with HIV should not be discriminated against.