Friday, October 14, 2011

HIV/AIDS and Stigma

What is Stigma?

If you look up the word in the dictionary it says:

1. “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person,” or “a mark of disgrace or infamy;” a stain or reproach, as someone’s reputation.”

You could say it is a social disapproval of a person on the grounds of their unique characteristics distinguishing them from others in society. Almost all stigma is based on a person differing from the current social or cultural norms. Stigma often creates obstacles for those targeted persons.

HIV-related stigma exists in every country in the world, although it shows up differently across countries, communities, religious groups and individuals. Up to this day there are a lot of misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. Many people are prejudiced or have fear of a number of socially sensitive issues including sexuality, aging, disease and death and drug use. This type of stigma can lead to discrimination and other types of human rights abuses. HIV/AIDS stigma often occurs alongside other forms of stigma and discrimination, such as racism, poverty, homophobia, and age. It is important to understand that HIV related stigma is not static. It has changed over time, just as the knowledge of the disease and the availability of treatment.

Stigma can lead to discrimination and other violations of human rights. This affects the well being and health of people living with the virus. Throughout the world we find well-documented cases of people living with HIV who are denied the right to health care, work, education and freedom of movement. Not only does stigma harm people living with the disease, it also discourages HIV testing as well as prevention methods such as condom-use, and it may create confusion about how HIV is and is not transmitted.

Stigma may look different depending on where you live. In the US stigma often occurs in the workplace and in the health care system. It is not unusual for people with HIV to be refused the care they needed, being blamed for their health status, and also having health care professionals refuse to touch them. In the workplace, people living with HIV may suffer stigma from their co-workers and employers, such as ridicule and isolation, or experience discriminatory practices, such as termination or refusal of employment. Often persons living with HIV fear their employer's reaction should they reveal their status. Next week I tell you about a man who was fired from his job due to his HIV status. This example will clearly show how stigma and discrimination still takes place in New York City in 2011.

Legal Framework

Problems abound in tracking down AIDS related stigma and discrimination. The June 2001 Declaration of Commitment adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS addresses this task. It states that confronting stigma and discrimination is crucial for effective prevention and care. And it reaffirms that discrimination related to a person’s HIV status is a violation of one’s human rights.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The relationship between HIV and disability has not received much attention. People with HIV may develop impairments as the disease progresses, and may be considered to have a disability when social, economical and political, or other barriers hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. The convention does not explicitly refer to HIV or AIDS in the definition of disability. But states are required to recognize that where persons living with HIV have impairments which, in interaction with the environment results in stigma and discrimination, they can fall under the protection of the convention. *

The New York City Human Rights Law

Discrimination is illegal in New Your City. The New York City Human Rights Law is one of the most comprehensive civil rights laws in the nation. The Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, color, creed, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender (including gender identity and sexual harassment), sexual orientation, disability, marital status, and partnership status. In addition, the Law affords protection against discrimination in employment based on arrest or conviction record and status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking and sex offenses. In housing, the Law affords additional protections based on lawful occupation, family status, and any lawful source of income. The City Human Rights Law also prohibits retaliation and bias-related harassment, (including cyberbullying).

Stigmatizing and discriminatory actions violate the fundamental human right to freedom from discrimination. In addition to being a violation of human rights in itself, discrimination directed at people living with HIV or those believed to be HIV-infected, leads to the violation of other human rights, such as the rights to health, dignity, privacy, equality before the law, and freedom from inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.

Please visit again next week for the article about Antonio Munoz who lost his job because of his HIV status.

If you want to learn more about HIV and stigma. Please click here:

* Read the full convention here:

Sanna Klemetti –