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Stigma, Prejudice and the Rights of People Living with HIV (PLWHIV)

Stigma is when something that a person has, or does, becomes marked as bad or negative.

Prejudice is a negative attitude or an opinion that is not based on reason or real experience.

Discrimination is the way someone, or a group of people, who are marked as different, are treated as less than others.

HIV-related stigma, prejudice and discrimination towards people living with HIV happen because of fear of HIV, which comes from a lack of information and knowledge about the virus.

Self-stigma is when people who are being stigmatise believe the that they are bad or negative. This can happen to people who are living with HIV.

Dealing with stigma, prejudice and discrimination

On a personal level

A person who is being stigmatised can:

  • Join a support group to avoid feeling isolated.
  • Speak to a counsellor to help them realise that this is the other person's problem not theirs.
  • Tell people who are discriminating against them how this makes them feel.

At a community level

Stigma is often born out of fear or lack of knowledge. For this reason HIV activists believe that the way to challenge stigma is to:

  • Create more public awareness through education.
  • Openly disclose their status and share experiences to show that people living with HIV are just like everyone else. 

The rights of People Living With HIV

The Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution protects all people. This means that people living with HIV have the same rights as anybody else.

  • PLWHIV have a right to privacy. No one can give out information about a person's HIV status unless they agree.
  • Routine testing of a person for HIV for the purpose of protecting a healthcare worker from possible HIV infection isn't allowed.
  • PLWHIV have a right to medical treatment and care. Including reproductive healthcare.
  • Women living with HIV have a right to make choices about their pregnancy.  A woman cannot be forced to terminate her pregnancy because she is living with HIV.
  • PLWHIV have a right to make decisions that affect their marriage and having children. Information and counselling around these decisions should be provided.
  • PLWHIV have a right to choose what kind of work they want to do. They cannot be fired, retrenched or refused a job simply because they are HIV-positive. No employer can require that a job applicant have an HIV test before they are employed or demand to know their status.
  • Children living with HIV have a right to attend any school.
  • PLWHIV have the same rights to housing, food, social security, medical assistance and welfare as all other members of our society.
  • Any person living with HIV has the right to live their lives with respect, dignity and freedom from discrimination and shame.