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  • Writer's pictureMed Insider

The Stigma and Discrimination Surrounding HIV

By Aya Ari


  • Lack of knowledge and fear leads people to discriminate and have a stigma towards people who have HIV.

  • Spreading awareness about HIV is a way to prevent the stigma. However, one should be aware of his or her language as it could be negatively associated with those who have HIV.

People living with HIV face prejudice and discrimination. HIV stigma refers to negative attitudes and beliefs about HIV positive people. HIV stigma is associated with a belief or attitude, whereas HIV discrimination is the behavior that results from those beliefs and attitudes. People who face this discrimination are often in a health care setting, calling HIV positive people names and denying health care to HIV positive people or anyone in contact with them. Because of HIV stigma and discrimination, one out of every eight people living with HIV is denied health care. (Avert)

The main cause of HIV stigma is a lack of knowledge and fear of the virus. Lack of information increases the myths and misconceptions and believing in them. The effect of this stigma is that people will be afraid to get tested for HIV, to go to hospitals for treatment, and to lose hope, all of which can lead to mental health problems for the individual.

The way HIV is transmitted is one of the most common misunderstandings associated with HIV stigma. HIV cannot be contracted through simple contact, kissing, hugging, sneezing, or coughing. People living with HIV will be affected by these beliefs since no one wants to come into contact with them. HIV stigma and prejudice would be reduced if people were aware of these widespread misconceptions.

What can we do about HIV stigma and discrimination? Being involved in campaigns that educate people. Talking about it helps to normalize the subject. Having an open discussion about HIV allows more people to learn about the disease and correct any misconceptions they may have about it. This would also aid in the reduction of stigma and discrimination. It is important to note that when discussing HIV, one should be mindful of his or her language, as he or she may use a word or phrase that has a negative connotation with an HIV positive person. Here are a few examples:

  • An HIV patient or AIDS patient should just be referred to as a person with AIDS, or a person with HIV.

Why: The word 'patient' is associated with a constant state of illness. This could be taken offense to people with HIV or AIDS. A person is not a patient, if they are outside a clinical setting.

  • “Unprotected sex” should more accurately be referred as, “sex without a condom or medicines to prevent or treat HIV.”

Why: “Unprotected sex” is related to sex without the use of condoms. However, there are several ways with the use of condom engage in safe sex to prevent HIV.

See more information on problematic phrases.


“Facts about HIV Stigma.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 June 2021,

“HIV Stigma and Discrimination.” Avert, 10 Oct. 2019,

“Myths about HIV and AIDS.” Avert, 24 Feb. 2021,

“Prevention.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 June 2021,

“Ways to Stop HIV Stigma and Discrimination.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Feb. 2021,

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