Lots of people who have HIV keep it a secret. If you have HIV in your family, you have probably been told not to tell anyone else about it. People may say that this is because HIV has a ‘stigma’ attached to it, or that they don’t want someone to think badly of them because of the virus. Some people or groups of people make judgements towards a person or group because of something about that person or group that they don’t agree with, or don’t have the correct information about. If someone was behaving negatively towards someone because of their HIV status, they would be stigmatising that person. When something is stigmatised it means that members of a certain group of people are seen in a negative way just because of something about them. In this case it’s because they are living with HIV. Other parts of people’s lives can also have a stigma attached to them, and it all depends on when and where you are living.
If you look at history, at different times, different things have been stigmatised:
In the past black people were stigmatised under the apartheid regime in South Africa, and through slavery.
Until more recent times, and still in some parts of the world, if you are woman who has a child and you are unmarried, you may have been treated badly and frowned upon.
Gay people in many parts of the world even today are still seen negatively. This can mean that being gay has a stigma attached to it. In some places this stigma has been overcome and gay people have been accepted.
We can see from these examples that things that used to have stigma around them, now don’t. As society moves forward we can hope that there will be a time in the future when HIV becomes free of stigma, as people realise it is simply a virus that people live with.
Why do people think this?
Many people have not been educated about HIV, so they don’t understand it. They may not understand how you become infected with it, or they may think that only certain types of people become infected. They may think that people have done something morally wrong and that is how they got HIV. So they make a judgment based on the wrong information. In the past, you may have thought these things too, but now you know they are not true. HIV is a virus, it is quite a tricky virus, but you don’t have to have done anything wrong to get it and it can affect all types of people.