HIV Stigma - How Can You Deal With It?
by Rachel Jackson
July 2018 - HIV stigma is something that's partially rooted in myths and partially rooted in misunderstandings. Even though education about HIV and AIDS is relatively widespread, people are still confused about exactly how difficult it is to contract HIV. These factors culminate to make social relationships in the workplace, the learning environment, and sometimes the home lives of people with HIV unnecessarily difficult. If you or someone you know is living with HIV, you have the power to take a few simple steps to help eradicate the stigma.
When People Don't Have to Disclose Their Status
If you have HIV, your status only needs to be disclosed in a medical context and to any sexual partners you may have. You do not necessarily need to disclose your HIV status to your employer unless you're working a field where bodily fluids may be exchanged, such as a medically related profession. An office job won't necessarily require a disclosure to be made, and you're only obligated to disclose this information to your employer in the event that you're injured in the workplace or cannot perform certain duties as a result of your HIV status. If you work with someone with HIV, it's not uncommon that you'd never hear about it.
In most first world countries, people with HIV are a protected class. The illness is considered a disability and is thus protected under discrimination laws. You can choose to disclose this information to your employer, and they cannot terminate your employment because of your status. If you are a manager or a coworker of someone who is living with HIV, remind others that treating an affected individual unfairly could be classified as workplace discrimination.
Choosing to Be Open
When you decide to tell people that you're living with HIV, you're making a brave move. Many people will be understanding. They won't have an irrational fear that they can contract HIV from sharing a bathroom or a drinking glass with you. They might have powerful reservations because they're afraid of the virus and fail to realize how difficult it is to contract HIV from a nonsexual or nonmedical relationship with someone. If you know someone with HIV, never tell anyone on their behalf. Even if they're generally open about it, remember that it can be perceived as insensitive to disclose someone else's HIV status.
When you decide to educate others about HIV, you're making a positive impact on society as a whole. Ideally, we would live in a world where everyone is informed and rational when it comes to HIV, but we can't get there unless we're willing to educate the people around us.
You can either speak from personal experience and understanding about HIV, or you can direct people to independent resources. Many STD and HIV related charities share helpful information on their websites. YouTube users with HIV often document their journeys and create explainer videos for those who have some learning to do. It all depends on what you're most comfortable doing. If you aren't yet ready to be the one doing all the talking, you can just as easily point people in the direction of someone who has already said what you want them to know.
Finding a Sense of Community
Whether or not your efforts to influence and inform the people around you prove to be successful, you're going to benefit from regular correspondence for people who understand what you're going through. This is just as important for people living with HIV as it is for people who care about someone with HIV.
See if there are any local meetups or support groups for people living with HIV. You might even make great friends at your doctor's office who have had a similar experience. If you can't find anything locally or you're not comfortable enough just yet, there's always the internet. You can interact with people all over the world and ask them what they do to help fight the stigma in their communities.
While dealing with the stigma of HIV can be difficult at times, it's important to remember that friendship and education can help bridge the gap between yourself and your peers. A few words can make a world of difference.
About the author
Rachel is a mother of 2 beautiful boys. She loves to hike and write about travelling, education and business. She is a Senior Content Manager at Populationof.net - an online resource with information about world population.
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