What rights do HIV-positive people have when facing stigma?

HIV is not just a medical problem. HIV is a social epidemic too. What are the consequences of HIV stigma and how bad is it in South Africa?

The stigma surrounding HIV and why.

Is HIV both a social and medical issue?

Research conducted around the world on attitudes towards, and reactions to, people living with HIV indicates that people all behave and react in the same way, no matter where they are. And, the reasons for their behaviour are universal, too. A Heart International article that highlights the social consequences of HIV stigma offer these reasons for the prevalence of the HIV stigma:

  • HIV is life-threatening.
  • People are scared of HIV.
  • HIV is already linked to stigmatised groups.
  • People with HIV are seen as personally responsible.
  • The spread of HIV is caused by a ‘moral fault’.

What are the consequences of the HIV stigma?

It may be unthinkable to many of us that people living with HIV are shunned by their own family, peers, and community. This is, however, the reality that many HIV-positive people experience every day. It’s the stigma attached to HIV that makes the disease more devastating and unconquerable than it actually is. Avert.org gives a good insight into the consequences borne from the stigma surrounding HIV:

Are HIV-positive people side-lined from society?

People living with HIV are “increasingly marginalised not only from society but from the services they need to protect themselves from HIV.”

Is our society in denial about HIV?

People “are reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status, and take antiretroviral drugs.”

How HIV stigma affects the world:

Having to deal with the stigma also “interferes with attempts to fight the global HIV and AIDS epidemic as a whole.”

How does HIV stigma affect mental health?

Stigma has “an equally damaging effect on the mental wellbeing of people living with HIV. This fear of discrimination breaks down confidence to seek help and medical care.

Is HIV stigma helping or worsening the epidemic?

“Self-stigma and fear of a negative community reaction can hinder efforts to address the HIV epidemic by continuing the wall of silence and shame surrounding the virus.”

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How bad is HIV stigma in South Africa?

According to the report, The People Living With HIV Stigma Index: South Africa 2014, “moderate levels of HIV-related external and internalised stigma and discrimination were found,” suggesting that headway has been made in recent years. ‘Moderate’ may not seem to be a concerning level when we see such a statistic in an article like this one. But, think about that for a second.

What HIV stigma means for people living with HIV:

  • Stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV in the health care sector.
  • People living with HIV experience exclusion from social activities.
  • People living with HIV experience being gossiped about, verbally assaulted, and physically harassed.

Of the total respondents in the study, 36% experience external stigma and 43% experience internalised stigma.

Who is best placed to determine whether these findings are acceptable? Only the community they represent, no doubt. But surely, the only goal can be, as noted in the HIV Stigma Index, zero HIV stigma.


Avert. 2017. HIV Stigma And Discrimination. [online] Available at: <http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-stigma-and-discrimination.htm#sthash.wV81kjJM.dpuf> [Accessed 10 December 2020].

SANAC. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://sanac.org.za/> [Accessed 10 December 2020].

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