A lot of strides have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS worldwide. HIV-infected people can now live longer, healthier lives thanks to advancements in antiretroviral treatment. There have been a lot of strides in HIV medication as well.
But one of the foremost barriers to every single step made is stigma. Stigma is any kind of prejudice directed towards people infected with HIV/AIDS, people who are perceived to be so, as well as their partners, families, friends or communities.
It is as much a problem in the US as it is in the rest of the world.
It affects HIV prevention, treatment and awareness. At times, stigma is fed by simple myths and misconceptions concerning HIV/AIDS.
Here they are:
HIV is the same as AIDS
This is an idea that makes people associate ‘being HIV-positive’ with having AIDS. And that gives them the leeway to fear or discriminate anyone living with HIV.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
AIDS is the condition where the infected person has a CD4 count that below 200 or has certain infections or cancers.
People can live with HIV for years without having AIDS.
HIV is a death sentence
This myth usually carries fear along with it. It pushes the stigma that those infected will soon die and this is not helpful to someone who needs to get treatment.
Advanced antiretroviral therapy has made living with HIV possible meaning it is no longer a death sentence.
It only remains deadly to people who either do not know they are infected or are in denial.
HIV can spread through saliva, tears, sweat and toilets
This one is usually the kicker.
A lot of stigma stems from the idea that interacting with someone infected with HIV will spread the virus to them. But HIV only spreads through blood, semen, vaginal fluid or milk from an infected person. Not through the air, eating together, sharing cutlery, sharing toilets, switching clothes, touching, hugging or kissing.
Although the numbers have plateaued, according the CDC, there are still over 50,000 new infections in the US each year. Debunking the myths and curbing the stigma could make a huge difference.