Sun | Oct 2, 2022

Outdated beliefs, misconceptions fuel HIV stigma

Discrimination against people with virus costs Ja economy $65b annually - Survey

Published:Wednesday | June 15, 2022 | 12:06 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
A person being tested for the HIV/AIDS virus.
A person being tested for the HIV/AIDS virus.

HIV stigma is negative attitudes and beliefs about people with HIV. It is the prejudice that comes with labelling an individual as being part of a group that is believed to be socially unacceptable. While stigma refers to an attitude or belief, discrimination is the behaviours that result from those attitudes or beliefs. HIV discrimination is the act of treating people living with HIV differently from those without the virus.

HIV stigma and discrimination affect the emotional well-being and mental health of people living with HIV. People living with HIV often internalise the stigma they experience and begin to develop a negative self-image. They may fear that they will be discriminated against or judged negatively if their HIV status is revealed.

HIV-related internalised stigma can lead to feelings of fear of disclosure, isolation, and despair. These feelings can keep people from getting tested and treated for HIV. People who experience stigma are less likely to access the services and support they need to look after their health.

Stigma can have deadly consequences. It can result in people with HIV getting diagnosed late, when the virus may have already progressed to AIDS. This makes treatment less effective, increases the likelihood of passing on HIV, and leads to unnecessary deaths.

According to Patrick Lalor, policy advocacy officer, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, HIV stigma and discrimination impact in different ways outside of the individual lives that it affect.

“It is important to measure HIV stigma and discrimination, to be able to tell the economic impacts, how it affects gross domestic product, and how it prevents the country from meeting it international obligations under various conventions,” Lalor said.

Many of our ideas about HIV come from the images that first appeared in the early 1980s. There are still misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted and what it means to live with HIV today.

The lack of information and awareness, combined with outdated beliefs, leads people to fear getting HIV. Additionally, many people think of HIV as a disease that only certain groups get. This leads to negative value judgements about people who are living with HIV.

Consequently, Lalor said, people are displaced from homes, communities and jobs; and this has a big impact on the economy.

Jamaica’s 2017 HIV/AIDS Knowledge, Attitudes, Behaviour and Practice survey found that just 12 per cent of respondents were accepting of people living with HIV. In 2019, a study conducted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute revealed that the total estimated cost of HIV discrimination was US$424 million, or $65 billion, annually- just $9 billion shy of the $74 billion allocated to the Ministry of Health and Wellness in the 2020-21 Budget.

“This estimated annual cost of HIV stigma and discrimination denies the Jamaican economy monies that could be spent on improving the working conditions of our nurses, doctors and other key service providers towards better service delivery and, to an extent, of building the resilience of the health sector to withstand epidemic such as COVID-19 and the emerging outbreak of the monkeypox,” Lalor argued.

“However, stigma and discrimination remain rife, therefore, negatively impacting the actualisation of human potential and by extension, the economy. On this premise, the Jamaica AIDS Support For Life (JASL) calls for all hands on deck to improve the quality of life of people living With HIV while reducing discrimination specifically in health, education, workplace and law enforcement,” he urged.

HIV stigma and discrimination can be reduced significantly by providing clear information about HIV; plus, public awareness campaigns and stigma-reduction sessions for healthcare professionals and others can help people recognise and address the stigmatising attitudes they hold.

Talking openly about HIV can help normalise the subject. It also provides opportunities to correct misconceptions and help others learn more about HIV. We can all help end HIV stigma through our words and actions in our everyday lives.

SOURCES: Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Jamaica AIDS Support For Life