Stigma of HIV/AIDS
It goes without saying that HIV and AIDS are as much about social phenomena as they are about biological and medical concerns. From the moment scientists identified HIV and AIDS, social responses of fear, denial, stigma, and discrimination have accompanied the epidemic. Discrimination has spread rapidly, fuelling anxiety and prejudice against the groups most commonly affected, as well as those living with HIV or AIDS. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of education and misconceptions that have developed about the disease. Some individuals affected (or believed to be affected) by HIV have even been rejected by their families, their loved ones, and their communities. This rejection holds as true in the rich countries of the global North as it does in the poorer countries of the global South. At the same time, the global epidemic of HIV/AIDS has shown itself capable of triggering responses of compassion, support, and awareness, bringing out the best in people, their families and communities. Therefore, while HIV/AIDS is often perceived and interpreted negatively in all levels of society, which has resulted in many misconceptions, efforts are continually being made to counteract such views and the disease itself.
Stigma is a powerful tool of social control. Stigma can be used to marginalize, exclude and exercise power over individuals who show certain characteristics. While the societal rejection of certain social groups (e.g. homosexuals, injecting drug users, “sex” workers) may predate HIV/AIDS, the disease has, in many cases, reinforced this stigma. According to a journal article entitled Social Networks and HIV/AIDS Perceptions, “twenty-seven percent of 1,712 adults said they would be less likely to put on a sweatshirt that had been worn once by a person with AIDS, even if the clothing was first cleaned and repackaged” (Kohler et al. 18). From this study it is clearly evident that the AIDS disease has acquired a negative stigma. Though this study may be viewed as unrepresentative of our entire population, it did however prove that HIV and AIDS are still frequently misunderstood.
Beginning in the early 1980’s, AIDS was primarily viewed as a “gay disease.” However, within a few years, researchers found that HIV/AIDS was not only spread between gay males but also heterosexuals and even people who do not participate in sexual intercourse. But how could this be? According to the American Red Cross, “AIDS (a result of HIV infection) is caused by a virus (HIV) that is spread through sex (vaginal, oral or anal), blood-to-blood contact with people who have HIV, breast feeding and even during pregnancy” (redcross.org). Unlike what was previously thought before, HIV can not spread from person to person by causal everyday interactions. Some of the ways in which the spread of HIV has been falsely identified with include drinking out of water fountains, sitting on toilet seats and coming into contact with a person infected with HIV. In addition to the stigma that accompanies HIV/AIDS, discrimination is also present on a national level. According to the food and Drug Administration “any man that has ever had sex with another man is still banned for life from donating blood” (FDA.org). Despite the fact that modern screening methods can detect HIV in blood within a few days of infection, the government is continuing to do everything they can to prevent the spread of AIDS through blood transfusions. The U.S. also still has a restriction on HIV positive people entering the United States, whether they are on holiday or visiting on a more long-term basis. Recent rules and regulations show that, “those who do not hold an approved medical waiver form (which can be difficult to acquire) risk being barred entry or deported if they test HIV positive, or are found to be carrying AIDS medication” (CQ Research). For this reason, major international conferences on HIV and AIDS are virtually never held in the USA,...
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