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Ending HIV/AIDS stigma is vital to ending suffering


With World AIDS Day on Monday, people everywhere should take time to think about what they can do to end the tight grip the disease has over sexually active adults, especially the LGBT community.

Although, most people have moved on from the days of HIV/AIDS dubbed “the gay cancer,” the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases still manifests itself in less obvious ways.

The humiliation experienced by people who contract HIV/AIDS has even prompted the likes of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to speak out against this stigma, saying it remains “the single most important barrier to public action.”

The prevailing school of thought used to be that the more knowledge people have about the disease and the more treatments became available to the public, the more the stigma would fade away.

However, it remains that even in developed countries like the U.S., where treatment has been widely available for decades, a report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS showed that 27 percent of Americans would prefer not to work closely with a woman living with the disease.
The fact that HIV/AIDS has historically been associated with behaviors that have also been stigmatized by society, such as drug addiction and homosexuality, doesn’t lessen the impact the disease has on the life of people who contract it.

In fact, the stigma only serves to pile on to people already facing a life-threatening diagnosis. The National Institute on Mental Health states a number of studies have shown that people with HIV/AIDS are more likely than the general population to suffer from anxiety and depression.
HIV/AIDS and other STIs should be treated like any other treatable diseases, and the people who contract the disease should be met with the same level of support and attention given to any other sick person.

Instead, many people trivialize the life-changing diagnosis by attributing the disease to personal irresponsibility or moral failing.
Even in 2014, there continues to be public cases of this kind of humiliation, such as when earlier this year Donald Sterling said Magic Johnson “should be ashamed of himself” for having HIV.

Many people think that if only these people weren’t sleeping with everyone or acting so slutty, they wouldn’t contract an STI in the first place.
It would be a shame if people’s misguided vilification of people with HIV/AIDS prevented at-risk individuals from seeking out new drugs such as PReP, a new daily drug combination used to prevent the spread of HIV, for fear of being put to shame by their friends and family.

While many people may never have the opportunity or the ability to synthesize the drug that finally wipes out HIV/AIDS for good, everyone has the ability to create an environment in which people with STIs are supported rather than shamed.

While hundreds of millions of dollars might still have to be spent before a cure is found, kindness and understanding are free, and for people who have already contracted HIV/AIDS, this kind of positive, humanistic response is vital.