Addressing HIV/AIDS Stigma Head-On

By Rob Banaszak on December 5, 2011 in World AIDS Day

by Caressa Cameron, Regional Organizer, AIDS United

This World AIDS Day I had the pleasure of serving as the moderator for a distinguished panel at the International conference on Stigma at Howard University.  In this session we dug into the ugly details of what HIV related stigma looks like, how it’s formed and the steps we must take to eradicate it.

Vanessa Johnson of the National Association of People with AIDS and Kali Lindsey of the National Minority AIDS Coalition candidly shared their personal stories of HIV related stigma.  Dr. Gregory Pappas, Senior Deputy Director of the District of Columbia Department of Health  and Dr. Anne Stangl, a Behavioral Scientist and Stigma Specialist at the International Center for Research on Women, shared firsthand experiences of  the devastating ways that stigma creates barriers to accessing care, in the U.S. and around the world. People from as far away as Uganda joined the conversation with questions and comments through tweeting #EndAIDS

One of the most meaningful quotes of the day came from Mr. Lindsey when he said, “All of us in this world regardless of our status have to die once… but HIV related stigma is an entirely different and  all together separate death and nobody deserves to die twice.”  Thirty years after the identification of HIV, stigma is alive and well. It is both responsible for and reinforced by criminalizing people living with and at risk of HIV, religion based hate messaging, exclusionary political rhetoric, work place and housing discrimination and isolationism. The Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr. Paul De Lay said it best when he stated that  the game changer to enable us to achieve zero incidence and universal access to care is reducing stigma and discrimination. If we are going to get to get to zero new infections, zero AIDS related deaths, and zero discrimination, we must have zero tolerance on HIV-related stigma.

We have come too far in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We know what is necessary to prevent new infections and how to support the lives and health of people infected with HIV.  We cannot let stigma stop our progress. We cannot ignore it. Our silence only makes stigma stronger.    We must address it head on. Take a stance on stigma by:

1.)    Identifying where it exists.

2.) Engage people in uncomfortable conversations that confront their biases and why they exists.

3.) Advocating on a national level with members of congress; to change policies perpetuating stigma.

What will you do to stop stigma? Join the global conversation #EndAIDS

Caressa Cameron joined the AIDS United staff as Regional Organizer in October, 2011.  As Miss America 2010, HIV/AIDS education was her platform, and she has been an dedicated AIDS educator and advocate since she was a young girl.

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