The poster featured in my essay goes into depth about the stigma behind AIDS and what factors are mostly affected by that fear. The fear surrounding the emerging HIV epidemic in the 1980s largely persists today. At that time, very little was known about how HIV is transmitted, which made people scared of those infected due to fear of contagion.
This fear, coupled with many other reasons, means that lots of people falsely believe:
- HIV and AIDS are always associated with death
- HIV is associated with behaviors that some people disapprove of (such as homosexuality, drug use, sex work or infidelity)
- HIV is only transmitted through sex, which is a taboo subject in some cultures
- HIV infection is the result of personal irresponsibility or moral fault (such as infidelity) that deserves to be punished
- inaccurate information about how HIV is transmitted, which creates irrational behavior and misperceptions of personal risk.
HIV-related stigma and discrimination exists worldwide, although it manifests itself differently across countries, communities, religious groups and individuals. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, heterosexual sex is the main route of infection, which means that HIV-related stigma in this region is mainly focused on infidelity and sex work.
Research by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) outlines the possible consequences of HIV-related stigma as:
- loss of income and livelihood
- loss of marriage and childbearing options
- poor care within the health sector
- withdrawal of care giving in the home
- loss of hope and feelings of worthlessness
- loss of reputation
Stigma and discrimination is often directed towards key affected populations such as men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.
These people are increasingly marginalized, not only from society, but from the services they need to protect themselves from HIV. For example, in 2016, 60% of countries in the European Economic Area reported that health care professionals’ negative and discriminatory attitudes towards men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs hampered the provision of adequate HIV prevention services for these groups.
More than 90% of new HIV infections in Central Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and North Africa in 2014 were among people from key populations and their sexual partners, who accounted for 45% of new HIV infections worldwide in 2015.14 Recent studies suggest that, globally, people who inject drugs are 24 times more likely to acquire HIV than the general population, sex workers are 10 times more likely and men who have sex with men are 24 times more likely. Moreover, transgender people are 49 times more likely and prisoners are five times more likely to be living with HIV than adults in the general population.