Stigma is often the result of ignorance, and ignorance can be defeated by education. In the beautiful words of Michel Sidibé, ‘Whenever AIDS has won, stigma, shame, distrust, discrimination and apathy was on its side. Every time AIDS has been defeated, it has been because of trust, openness, dialogue between individuals and communities, family support, human solidarity, and the human perseverance to find new paths and solutions.’ A detrimental cyclical pattern exists in line with the stigmatisation and discrimination surrounding HIV. The effects of stigma act to marginalise groups, making them even more vulnerable to HIV. This exists in conjunction with the fact that those living with HIV are made more vulnerable to the effects of discriminatory stigmatisation.
According to UNAIDS' article ‘On the fast track to end AIDS by 2030’ a shocking statistic reveals ‘over 50% of people report having discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV.’ Individuals who are most at risk experience the effects of the stigma and discrimination dependent on their perceived conditions of health, sexual orientation, racial identity, socioeconomic background, as well as other multiple factors. In certain circumstances, women living with HIV are stripped of their rights to access sexual health care. According to ‘Women of the Asian Pacific Network of People Living with HIV (2012)’ 37.7% of women living with HIV, in a six-country study in the Asia–Pacific region reported being subjected to involuntary sterilisation.
Many countries around the world heartbreakingly act to deport HIV positive individuals. This can negatively affect their treatment if the deportation is to a location with insufficient or out of date treatment practices. In addition to this, they may be deported to a country where they would experience further discrimination significantly detrimental to their fundamental human rights. There is a broken faith here. When human beings cannot hold each other up with respect and understanding what does that say about us?
It is ignorance that delivers the act of discrimination, and it is education that can help cure ignorance. The effects of stigma are heartbreaking and unfair. How do we change this?
We now live in a day and age where we can choose to be more knowledgeable about HIV, and this very act functions to destroy stigma. What it comes down to is the adherence of a human rights approach to tackling the stigmatisation attached to HIV and AIDS. It is discrimination that hinders HIV testing accessibility, thus resulting in the possibility of further transmission. Therefore the incorporation of lessons about HIV in schools and communities function to break down this wall.
UNAIDS and WHO’s Global Health Workforce Alliance have created the ‘Agenda for Zero Discrimination in Healthcare,’ which devotes time towards making healthcare accessible whilst creating an environment in which there is zero tolerance for discrimination. With education, openness, and kindness it is our responsibility as people to end the stigmatisation surrounding HIV and AIDS.