I count myself very fortunate to have very few friends, acquaintances, and family members living with HIV/AIDS, the dreaded name that strikes a kind of hopeless fear in people. Working with Basotho children affected by HIV/AIDS has plunged me to a world only present on the periphery. Yet even with my limited exposure to AIDS prior to travel in southern Africa, the thought of stigmatizing such a large portion of the population has always seemed foreign, unthinkable even.
That is not to say stigma is not a problem.
In Lesotho, where 23% of the adult population is HIV+, stigma or fear of stigma forms invisible barriers between available health services and those who need them. The same is true to a lesser degree in the United States, but prominently among minorities – as is often the case.
According to a recent post by Native News Online, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) claims that of all persons diagnosed with HIV, “more than 38% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives progressed to an AIDS diagnosis in less than 12 months, which is the highest percentage among all racial/ethnic groups.” The tragedy lies in the general reluctance to seek testing and treatment.
20 March is National Native AIDS Awareness Day. Along with World AIDS Day on 1 December and the many smaller awareness and remembrance days held internationally, it is important to stop a moment this day and see how we may be helping alleviate social stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS…and well as how we may be exacerbating it.