The Stigma Surrounding HIV

HIV and AIDS are commonly used synonymously but it needs to be understood that HIV is a virus and AIDS is a condition. HIV leads to AIDS. Stage 3 HIV culminates into AIDS. Even though a cure is yet to be discovered, the condition can be effectively controlled with medication which stops the virus from multiplying and harming the immune system of the individual. There is a cloud of misconceptions surrounding HIV all around the world which needs to be combated by the spread of awareness and control of misinformation via the tool of literacy. It’s high time that we address the stigma surrounding HIV and start accepting HIV positive people for their individual identities.

People with HIV are shut out from society and subjected to verbal assault, public shaming, bullying and harassment. Intimidating the people forces them to isolate themselves into a shell of self-doubt and fear. They lose their jobs, are shunned by their peers and feel like they cannot have a family and bear children. The delay in diagnosis is also a growing concern in the economy which leads to the progression of HIV into AIDS. Facing discrimination in the workplace leading to termination is an unjust practice which needs to be eradicated.

The two main ways of transmission of the HIV virus are unprotected sex between two individuals with one of them being the carrier of the virus and transmission via infected needles or syringes. The stigma is caused due to preconceived notions such as the theory that engaging with sex workers or drug abuse are the only perpetrators of HIV. The prejudice towards them arises from the basic fear of contraction of the disease. The barrier of shame needs to be broken down to change the existing attitudes of people around the globe. According to The National AIDS Trust (NAT), less than half (45%) of people in the UK know how HIV is transmitted and almost a third (28%) incorrectly think HIV can be spread through impossible means such as kissing, sharing glasses, sharing a toilet, sneezing or coughing. On April 24th, 2017, the law that bans discrimination against HIV-positive people or who have AIDS was passed in India which was a step towards acceptance of the issue and working towards it as a country.

In April 1987, Princess Diana inaugurated UK’s first HIV/AIDS unit at London Middlesex Hospital. She shook hands with patients and propagated awareness with a simple gesture. The act was met with a wave of shock questioning how royalty could engage with diseased people. In recent events, artist Conor Collins paid homage to Princess Diana by painting a portrait of her, using HIV-Positive blood and diamond dust to get rid of the stigma surrounding AIDS.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is doing remarkable work on wiping the AIDS epidemic off the face of the earth by 2030. The Indian Red Cross society has taken sustainable efforts towards AIDS awareness and combating the illness. Apart from HIV related work, they also undertake vocational training and blood camps in and around the country not to mention round the clock healthcare and services to a wide number of hospitals. The Indian Red Cross also provides support to HIV-Positive mothers and provides for the all-round development of the child. The presence of fellow patients fighting the illness garners a sense of motivation and hope among the community which is the fundamental aim of the Indian Red Cross Society. They organize counselling sessions for the family to bust any myths they might harbour. People from the lower economic strata in society benefit from such organizations because neither can they afford the costs attached to the treatment nor can they bear the stigmatization.

Intensive research is being carried out to find a cure for HIV. The dread surrounding HIV is slowly softening in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi but the spread of awareness of its symptoms, treatment and transmission is vital among small villages and communities to avoid any harsh implications on the patients. On humanitarian grounds, we ought to transform bias and convert it to love and positivity to spread around. With proper health care, antiretroviral medication and safe living conditions, a person with HIV can live a happy, prolonged life.

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