AIDS stigma exists around the world in a variety of ways, including ostracism, rejection, discrimination and avoidance of HIV infected people. Because of this, there have been many different outcomes and events forced onto people who are infected with HIV/AIDS such as: compulsory HIV testing without prior consent or protection of confidentiality; violence against HIV infected individuals or people who are perceived to be infected with HIV; and the quarantine of HIV infected individuals. In the article written by Rose Weitz, who is a sociologist and professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University,“Living with the Stigma of AIDS”, states, “Stigma-related violence or the fear of violence prevents many people from seeking HIV testing, returning for their results, or securing treatment, possibly turning what could be a manageable chronic illness into a death sentence and perpetuating the spread of HIV” (23).
The AIDS stigma has further been divided into three different categories (Herek):
- Instrumental AIDS stigma—a reflection of the fear and apprehension that are likely to be associated with any deadly and transmissible illness.
- Symbolic AIDS stigma—the use of HIV/AIDS to express attitudes toward the social groups or lifestyles perceived to be associated with the disease.
- Courtesy AIDS stigma—stigmatization of people connected to the issue of HIV/AIDS or HIV-positive people.
However, due to the time and how AIDS was first introduced as being a gay-only disease, the stigma grew more associated with homosexuality, bisexuality, promiscuity, prostitution, and intravenous drug users (Chain and Mann 128). During the 1980s, people were more likely to suspect minorities as being more susceptible in getting the disease which led to violence being shown to many who were infected or who could potentially be infected for being gay or from a less developed countries.
Looking at studies done by Chain and Mann, who were American physicians who were administrators for the World Health Organization, and spearheaded early AIDS research in the 1980s, were able to develop charts showing who was infected by AIDS using patterns to collect data from different countries, genders, and sexual orientation (128-134). According to the studies that were carried out from the 80s to the 90s, homosexual and IV-users were the predominant infected in the beginning. However, there studies began to show that more and more groups were starting to get infected. According to their first pattern studies, Chain and Mann document, “In some Pattern I countries, HIV infections began to increase disproportionately in the most socially and economically vulnerable segments of society during the latter half of the 1980s. For example, in the USA, there has been increasing evidence of HIV spread among blacks and Hispanics in the inner cities, largely due to IV-drug use” (130).
Their studies later showed that more and more heterosexuals who slept with multiple partners were spreading AIDS more which led to heterosexuals being the predominant group to have AIDS. Because of the studies, the global response was more positive compared to the beginning when only gay men and drug users were being infected. According to Chain and Mann’s research, they noted that “the WHO initiated the development of a global strategy for the prevention and control of AIDS” (134). A Global AIDS Strategy was approved and adopted by the World Health Assembly, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, the General Assembly of the United Nations,” and the World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programs for AIDS Prevention. The tables below are the objectives and principles set by the WHO.
Table 1a. Objectives of the Global AIDS Strategy
- Prevention of HIV infection.
- Reduction of the personal and social impact of HIV infection.
- . Unification of national and international efforts against AIDS.
Table 1b. Underlying principles of the Global AIDS Strategy
- Protection of the public’s health.
- Respect for human rights, and the prevention of discrimination against people with AIDS.
- AIDS can be prevented, even in the absence of an HIV vaccine.
- The key to AIDS prevention is information, education, and communication (lEC).HIV transmission can be prevented through informed and responsible behaviour.
- The prevention and control of AIDS and HIV infection will require sustained social and political commitment.
- All countries need a comprehensive national AIDS prevention and control programme, integrated into the national health infrastructure and linked within a global network.
- Systematic surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation will ensure that the global strategy can adapt and grow stronger with time.
This could also be considered discrimination against the gay community and any other minority because once studies were shown and it was seen more in heterosexuals as being the ones who needed help, that’s when help arose to prevent the control the disease.
This can be seen in another case involving a child who was neither gay, a drug user or a minority. The case of Ryan White.
Ryan White became a poster child for HIV/AIDS. He was diagnosed with AIDS on December 17, 1984. He was one of the first children, one of the first hemophiliacs to come down with AIDS, and it was a time where there was no education and there was hardly any information on AIDS at the time. Unlike other cases where infected people were gay or drug users or a minority, he was none of those. However, he was still diagnosed after a blood transfusion which left him with only six months to live.
Because he was infected with AIDS, he became a victim to discrimination not only in his school but to society as well. According to his mother, Jeanne White Ginder, she wrote “it was a long process. Through court hearings, we thought it would take one court hearing, and we’d have all these medical experts in so to speak, and then everybody would be educated, but it didn’t happen that way.”
She goes on to say that “it was really bad. People were cruel, people said that he had to be gay, that he had to have done something bad or wrong, or he wouldn’t have had it. It was God’s punishment, we heard the God’s punishment a lot. That somehow, some way he had done something he shouldn’t have done, or he wouldn’t have gotten AIDS.”
Before any research was done, it was hard for anyone not to fall victim to the stigma behind AIDS. Even when someone wanted to do something, nothing could be done because no one wanted to be anywhere near someone who was infected, or they weren’t educated enough to understand how AIDS worked.
However, his story left an impact. Because of his fight to go to school despite discrimination, he was able to gain attention and inspired education about AIDS to become something that was to be necessary for everyone. Eventually, Congress was able to pass the legislation bearing his name in August 1990 – the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. This eventually led to more people learning basic education about AIDS which led to the stigma behind AIDS to decrease. This legislation eventually led to forming a program named “The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP) provides persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) with services not covered by other healthcare payer types” (Bradley).
More and more programs have been formed to fight against any stigma against AIDS and to provide everyone with access to treatment without fear of being discriminated. In March 2016, UNAIDS and WHO’s Global Health Workforce Alliance launched the Agenda for Zero Discrimination in Healthcare. This works towards a world where everyone, everywhere, is able to receive the healthcare they need with no discrimination, in line with The UN Political Declaration on Ending AIDS. Zero discrimination is also at the heart of the UNAIDS vision, and one of the targets of its Fast-Track response. This focuses on addressing discrimination in healthcare, workplace and education setting.
Hopefully with many more programs arising such as this one, stigma can finally end behind AIDS and everyone can be better educated on AIDS and not just presume things.