Still at Work on HIV Stigma


2017 Is the Year That HIV Stigma Is Finally Loosening reads the headline of a VICE piece. That caught my eye, given that stigma is still so often the point that people make when speaking about HIV, from those in communities contributing to the BC People Living with HIV Stigma Index Project to none other than the UK’s Prince Harry, who spoke last week about destigmatizing HIV and HIV testing as well.

The VICE piece points to the excellent scientific advances of Treatment as Prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U Equals U). All of these pieces are cited at the beginning of the article by porn actor Hans Berlin, who is quoted, “We’ve come a long way, if you think about it. Thanks to PrEP and treatment as prevention, it is safe to show condomless scenes.” The American Centre for Disease Control statement acknowledging U Equals U is a huge boost to anti-stigma work, the article continues.

While that is a big step in the journey, stigma isn’t gone yet. A recent example is California’s change to HIV criminalization. The change may help fight stigma, but this article suggests that media headlines about the change actually promote it: “Headlines and articles still focusing on HIV exposure being a crime, may be unwittingly (or wittingly) perpetuating stigma.”

“It has been said that stigma has killed more people than the HIV virus,” said UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Kenneth Cole to a UN audience earlier this month. “At its roots, this is about intolerance and discrimination.” Cole called for all sectors of society to work together to address stigma and end HIV: “Social justice is non-negotiable.”

Do people still feel the pressure for social justice? American doctor and professor David Alain Wohl says we must. In Dear AIDS Activist, Now’s Not the Time for Complacency, he comments on great gains that have been made in terms of treatment for those fortunate enough to access it, but points only as far as the southern states in the US for a more desperate picture: “Beneath the surface of the encouraging national epidemiological trends, young African-American men in the South continue to become transmitted with HIV at astonishing and unacceptable rates.” He lists gay men and people who use drugs as vulnerable to stigma the world over. Wohl also writes about a slowdown into research on HIV and aging and awful under-funding in the US to address the opioid epidemic (true in many places). He says activists need to get mad and shout in a way that academics just can’t.

Racism can have its ugly part in health care as well. I’m happy to see BC is well aware and working on it: in March of this year, 23 health-profession regulatory bodies in BC became the first in Canada to pledge their commitment to making the health system more culturally safe and effective for First Nations and Indigenous peoples.

Here at PAN we are diving into the rich material gathered through the BC People Living with HIV Stigma Index Project to learn more about what is happening and how we can support changes to stigma that people experience. We look forward to sharing the information, and until then will continue to work with our members to fight stigma in every way we can.




Questions? Feedback? Get in touch! 
Janet Madsen, Capacity Building and Knowledge Translation Coordinator,
[email protected]