Respectful HIV Language to use

Hearing you are HIV positive was a distressing experience, and in 2004 the judgment and discrimination were rife, so I chose not to disclose my status for another six years. Once I publicly revealed my status in early 2011, I realised how uninformed people were, and sadly, still are, about using appropriate language when speaking about HIV.

By Cindy Pivacic.


There were many thoughtless questions and statements such as, ‘Do you have AIDS’, ‘Do you know how you got it’, ‘What do you take for it’ and ‘How long do you have’ (to live). These are all inappropriate questions. People should be mindful of what they say. Before disclosing my HIV status, I heard all the negative connotations expressed about HIV and AIDS, and this prolonged my disclosing my status, resulting in me not pursuing the necessary medical treatment sooner.

 Ask or say, ‘How can I support you’ ‘Can you explain the difference between HIV and AIDS’, ‘How does your treatment benefit you’ and ‘I am here for you’.

Using incorrect language when referring to HIV or a person living with HIV (PLWHIV) can be confusing, derogatory, and embarrassing, obstructing a conversation or the opportunity to be enlightened about HIV and AIDS.

When discussing an individual’s HIV status, it is essential to use respectful and inclusive language that promotes dignity, understanding, and empathy. The following are examples of accepted terminologies that are commonly used in conversations about HIV:

  • A person living with HIV: This term recognises the individual as a person first and acknowledges their humanity beyond their HIV status.
  • HIV-positive: This phrase refers to someone who has been diagnosed with HIV. It focuses on their health condition rather than defining their entire identity.
  • HIV status: This is a neutral and factual term used to describe whether someone has tested positive or negative for HIV.
  • Seropositive: This term is commonly used in medical contexts to describe individuals who have HIV antibodies present in their blood.
  • Undetectable: When a person living with HIV undergoes successful Anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and their viral load becomes undetectable, it means the level of the virus in their blood is extremely low, reducing the risk of transmission. Undetectable is termed U=U.
  • Viral suppression: This term refers to the successful control of HIV replication, usually through ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment), resulting in a low viral load and improved health outcomes.

On the other hand, using blunt and unacceptable terminologies can be discriminatory, disrespectful, and harmful. It is crucial to avoid using the following language when discussing someone’s HIV status:

  • AIDS victim/sufferer: These terms carry a negative connotation and perpetuate the idea that people living with HIV are helpless or defined solely by their illness.
  • Diseased/infected: These terms can further stigmatise individuals and contribute to the misconception that people living with HIV are dangerous or morally tainted.
  • Clean/dirty: Using such terms implies that someone who is HIV-negative is ‘clean’ and morally superior, while someone who is HIV-positive is ‘dirty’ and should be ashamed.
  • AIDS patient: This term focuses solely on the advanced stage of the disease and fails to acknowledge the individual’s overall well-being or the fact that HIV is a manageable condition.

It is essential to use language that promotes understanding, compassion, and respect when discussing HIV, as it helps reduce stigma, encourages open dialogue, and supports those living with the virus.

A chronic condition can affect anyone. How you manage it is what makes the difference.

You can get cover of up to 3 million rand for your chronic health condition and up to 10 million if you are living with HIV.

SMS CHRONIC to 33857 to find out more. 

I did!

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure, and is not a substitute for professional consultation with a health professional.


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