Fighting Stigma on World AIDS Day

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When World AIDS Day was founded in 1988, it was the first international global health day. It’s recognized on the first of December every year. The universal symbol for AIDS awareness is a red ribbon.  On this day, we recognize and support those living with HIV/AIDS and remember those we’ve lost. It also is an opportunity to bring awareness to and raise funds for HIV/AIDS prevention and medical resources for people who are living with a positive diagnosis. Most importantly, we debunk myths and end the stigma of those in the HIV/AIDS community. You can learn general information about HIV/AIDS here.

Why is World AIDS Day important? 

  • HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed 40.1 million [33.6–48.6 million] lives so far.
  • In 2021, 650 000 [510 000–860 000] people died from HIV-related causes and 1.5 million [1.1–2.0 million] people acquired HIV.
  • 38.4 million [33.9 million–43.8 million] people globally were living with HIV in 2021.
  • 1.5 million [1.1 million–2.0 million] people became newly infected with HIV in 2021.
  • 54% of all people living with HIV were women and girls.
  • The risk of acquiring HIV is:
    • 35 times higher among people who inject drugs than adults who do not inject drugs.
    • 30 times higher for female sex workers than adult women.
    • 28 times higher among gay men and other men who have sex with men than adult men.
    • 14 times higher for transgender women than adult women.

What are some misconceptions about HIV/AIDS?

World AIDS Day puts a spotlight on the stigma received by the HIV/AIDS community. Most stigma is driven by a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS itself. Here are the counters so some common misconceptions about HIV/AIDS:

  • HIV/AIDS is not transmitted by saliva.
  • HIV/AIDS does not only affect certain sexual orientations and genders.
  • Someone with HIV/AIDS is very unlikely to pass it on during childbirth when they are taking antiretroviral medication.
  • You can’t contract HIV/AIDS by physical touch.
  • Just because you have sex with someone that has HIV/AIDS, does not mean you will contract it (especially if you take PrEP or PEP).
  • You cannot tell by looking at someone that they have HIV/AIDS.
  • Even though we have medication for HIV/AIDS, people with it do still need to be mindful of their immune systems.
  • Having HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence.

How should you react when someone tells you they have HIV/AIDS?

  • Thank them. It takes a lot of courage to admit this. They are sharing this information with trust in mind.
  • Ask if there is anything they need from you. Different people need different kinds of support, so it’s better to ask than to make assumptions.
  • Assure the person that everything will stay the same in the relationship between you and them (and then work hard to live up to that).
  • Don’t ask “How did this happen?” The person will more than likely have anxiety about the conversation as it is. Any health diagnosis is a private situation and should be shared willingly.

Stigma=Death. World AIDS Day puts light on a community that needs, and wants, support and respect.

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Chris McMullen is an advocate for the LGBT community, sexual assault awareness, and recovery. He uses his own experience, and wisdom as a platform to help others.

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