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Stopping the Deadliest Epidemic: Stigma

Stopping the Deadliest Epidemic

Guest blogger, Kirsty Sievwright with the Stigma Action Network, shares with, that we are literally in the biggest epidemic in the global quest to end HIV– but the epidemic is not the virus, itself.  It is stigma!

Ladies and gentlemen –we are in the midst of a global epidemic, more terrifying and destructive than anything depicted in the summer blockbuster, World War Z!

The menace is a harmful state of thought, capable of endangering the health and wellbeing of individuals outside of its host – it’s called stigma. While stigma takes many forms, the particular strain we will be discussing is HIV stigma. “HIV/AIDS-related stigma is a complex concept that refers to prejudice, discounting, discrediting and discrimination directed at persons perceived to have AIDS or HIV, as well as their partners, friends, families and communities” [1].


[one_third]HIV stigma can result in such harmful outcomes as [1,2]:

  • Preventing people from getting tested and seeking treatment
  • Loss of income/livelihood
  • Loss of marriage and childbearing options
  • Poor care within the health sector
  • Withdrawal of caregiving in the home
  • Loss of hope and feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of reputation[/one_third]

[two_third_last]  IMG_0232  [/two_third_last]


[pullquote_left]Luckily[/pullquote_left] Luckily, there is a way for you to help actively prevent its spread. By taking the following steps, whether you are living with HIV or not, you can stop the spread of HIV stigma!


  1. Educate Yourself:

Learn the facts about how HIV is spread, how a person can lead a full and healthy life with HIV, the proper language for discussing the virus, etc. By educating yourself, not only can you protect yourself from contracting or spreading HIV and stigma, but you can speak up and educate others!

  1. Speak Up:

When someone has an incorrect perception of HIV (for example: they believe that you can get HIV from sharing food with someone who is living with the virus) you should speak up and correct that misunderstanding in order to stop the spread of HIV stigma. It is very important not to be afraid to talk about HIV. By speaking up, starting a conversation, and educating others about the disease (what it is, what it isn’t, what causes it, how it is treated, etc.), YOU can help maintain a healthy dialogue that challenges negative, false, perceptions. You can do this frequently and virtually by blogging, sharing articles, etc.

  1. Be Supportive:

Don’t let internalized stigma build up among those living with HIV. Whether you are or are not living with HIV yourself, if you come across someone who is struggling as a result of such HIV stigma, show that you are there for that individual and help them realize that there is a community of people they can turn to for support.

  1. Take Care of Yourself:

If you do not have HIV, be sure to practice safe sex and get routinely tested for HIV. If you already have HIV, make sure that you are monitoring your viral load and sticking to whatever treatment you and your healthcare provider have worked out!

  1. Live:

If you are HIV positive, it’s not the end. As Josh Robbins, from I’m Still Josh, so eloquently put it when he was coming to terms with his positive status: “I’m still Josh, you still be you.” You can and should still live your life the way you have always wanted to. Be an example for yourself and others!



If you follow these measures, you will not only stop the spread of stigma, but also improve the health of others around you! More people will feel confident to take measures to prevent HIV, to get tested, get treated if necessary, and live a healthy life!


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Further reading:

Works Cited:

  1. “How Does Stigma Affect HIV Prevention and Treatment?” Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. UCSF, n.d. Web. July 2013. <>.
  2. “HIV & AIDS Stigma and Discrimination.” AVERT. N.p., n.d. Web. July 2013. <>.


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