Why Keep it private?
Lots of people who have HIV keep it a secret and don't tell anyone else or very few people about their diagnosis. If you have HIV in your family, or have HIV yourself, you have probably been told not to tell anyone else about it. People may say this is because HIV has a stigma attached to it, or that they don’t want someone to think badly of them because of their HIV. If someone was behaving negatively towards, or judding someone because of their HIV status, they would be stigmatising that person. When something is stigmatised, it means that members of this group are seen in a negative way just because of something about them. In this case it is because they are living with HIV.
If you look at history, at different times, different things have been stigmatised:
In the past black people were stigmatised under the apartheid regime in South Africa, and throughout the slavery era.
Until more recent times, and still in some parts of the world, if you are an unmarried woman who has a child, you may be judged or mistreated.
LGBTQ+ people in many parts of the world are still seen negatively. In some countries it is still illegal to be homosexual. In some places this stigma has been overcome and gay people have been accepted more widely in society and their rights are recognised equally to any other sexuality, and include equal marriage and adoption rights.
We can see from these cases that things do change. As society moves forward and through better information, media coverage, action and discussion, there becomes better awareness and therefore more acceptance in the wider population. We can see from our work over the last ten years, that the public attitude towards HIV is getting better all the time, and stigma around the virus has less power than before.
Why do people think like this?
Many people have not been educated about HIV, so they don’t understand it. They may not understand the routes of transmission, or they may think that only certain types of people contract HIV. They may think that people have done something wrong to become HIV positive so they make a judgment based on the wrong information. In the past, you may have even have thought these things too, but now you know they are not true. HIV is a virus, it is quite a complicated virus, but no-one has done something wrong to get it and it affects all types of people. Some people are afraid of something they don't know about and this fear can turn into judgement, so it vital that we work together to ensure the right information is out there to help people overcome their fears through knowledge and information.