132,000. This is the number of New Yorkers who were living with HIV/AIDS in December 2012. Despite there being so many New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS, there is still great stigma attached to the disease.

For many, the stigma of HIV/ADIS comes with value-based assumptions about people who are infected with the disease. HIV and AIDS are often associated with stigmatized behaviors like homosexuality, prostitution or promiscuity, and drug addiction. Because people can become infected through sex, some religious and moral beliefs cause some to believe that HIV/AIDS is a result of moral fault, such as promiscuity. Because they see it as an act of personal responsibility, they believe they deserved to be punished.

Misinformation about the disease is also a large cause for the stigma surrounding HIV/ AIDS. Since the AIDS epidemic during the 1980’s, many still have the negative images stuck in their minds. Although it is not true, there is still lingering fear of contagion.

HIV/AIDS-related stigma has had a profound effect on those living with the disease. According to the World Health Organization, stigma and discrimination are the main reasons why people are hesitant to get tested or disclose their HIV status. The reluctance to getting tested contributes to the expansion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and causes more people to get diagnosed late. A late diagnosis when HIV has progressed into AIDS makes treatment less effective. When detected and treated early, individuals can lead mostly normal lives for decades.

The International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) found that HIV-related stigma causes:

  • Loss of income or livelihood
  • Loss of marriage and childbearing options
  • Poor healthcare
  • Loss of hope and feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of reputation

Stigma and discrimination hinder the fight against the HIV and AIDS epidemic because fear of discrimination often keeps people from treating the disease and from admitting their status publicly. How can we end HIV- related stigma and discrimination so that we can make progress in the fight against AIDS and HIV?

Programs that educate people living with HIV about their rights can help decrease discrimination. Awareness can empower people to take action if their rights are violated. Programs that educate people without HIV would also help end stigma and discrimination because there is still a lot of misinformation about the disease.


Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works