Everyone involved in the mission to end HIV/AIDS wants to get as many people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) into care as possible. Yet stigma remains a key barrier to achieving that goal. The Black AIDS Institute and the Positive Women’s Network (PWN) USA held a Brown Bag Lunch Webinar in March 2017 to help change that.
The webinar, “Combating Stigma,” looked at the role of stigma in the context of HIV and shared tactics to reduce it. The session was led by Vanessa Johnson, director of national training and leadership development for PWN-USA, and Erica Lillquist, mobilization manager for the Institute.
Before one can look at stigma in terms of HIV, it’s important to get an understanding of the concept in general, Lillquist said. Stigma is a social process in which certain people are perceived to be less valuable than others based on a set of characteristics they possess. HIV-related stigma refers to adverse beliefs people have about PLWHA. Much of the stigma surrounding HIV stems from a lack of knowledge about HIV. For example, some mistakenly believe that HIV is a death sentence. Others wrongly believe that HIV is the result of personal irresponsibility, or is transmitted only through sex, according to Johnson.
Not only is stigma hurtful, but it also has dire consequences. Those who are stigmatized could experience loss of income and livelihood because of discrimination. Others could face the loss of relationships. Stigma can also cause PLWHA to drop out of care or avoid getting the care they need in the first place. In fact, the World Health Organization found that fear of stigma is one of the main reasons people avoid getting tested and getting on treatment.
Read more to learn how you can reduce the effects of stigma on BlackAIDS.org.