Receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis is not just the beginning of dealing with a life-threatening virus, but it can also be a harsh lesson in how all illnesses are not viewed in the same way.
By now, we are all used to seeing Facebook posts from friends or acquaintances raising funds for a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer or another serious illness. You will see very few sponsored fun runs for those who have just been diagnosed with HIV and that is not just because a diagnosis is not the death sentence it once was.
HIV and AIDS are still seen as ‘dirty’, whether they have been contracted via sexual contact or via drug use. Even those we see as our most liberal friends can make a moral judgement on someone with HIV and how they could have avoided contracting it somehow. But moralistic education and judgement after the fact just add to the weight of what is already a life-changing diagnosis.
Those who are living with HIV and AIDS can still suffer discrimination on so many levels, whether that comes from friends, family, health professionals or potential employers. Co-workers may refuse to share a glass with them, family might disown them and employers could shun them or pass them over for promotion. There can also be difficult consequences and further stigma and discrimination when trying to obtain services such as housing, insurance or unrelated health care.
All this comes at a time when a person is struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis and it can be devastating. Those with a positive diagnosis can begin to feel isolated, with their mental and physical health suffering as a result. It may even mean that they fail to seek the proper medical care for their condition and any complications that arise from it. This is the reason that many people do not seek testing for HIV, while others hide their diagnosis.
Those who discriminate against those with HIV do so in the belief that they are protecting themselves, their loved ones or their financial interests. But a society where we stigmatise those with HIV into hiding or not seeking a diagnosis is a more dangerous place for all, with costly consequences for our healthcare system.
The raTrust is working, through education and information, to end the stigmatisation of and discrimination against anyone with a HIV-positive diagnosis or AIDS. We need your help and your donations to spread the word. Please share, comment and tweet our message to your friends.
Dominika Rejmer – Director and founder, The raTrust.