The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than a million people are living with HIV in the U.S. In spite of widespread education and prevention efforts, there has been little change in the number of new HIV infections. The good news: new treatments have allowed people with HIV to live a normal lifespan with reduced risk of transmitting the disease to others. But social stigma and the psychological and economic impact of HIV/AIDS still take a toll on those diagnosed with the disease.
When a patient was diagnosed with HIV only 30 years ago, it was instantly assumed that that person was going to have a short, painful, sickly life. The majority of those being diagnosed were homosexual males, and HIV was seen as a predominantly “gay issue.” Flash forward to today, and many of these conditions are not necessarily true. Today, there is no reason why a person who is HIV positive cannot have a normal lifespan. Additionally, it is not only gay men being diagnosed with HIV, but a growing number of individual in low-income and minority populations are contracting HIV.
“It’s a burden to live with HIV, even if you get to live like everyone else,” says Sara Nelson-Johns, a counselor for HIV positive patients at the KC Care Clinic. Not only is the blow of learning one’s HIV positive status a large one, but its effect on loved ones, friends, and romantic relationships can be equally as difficult. Nelson-Johns says that some patients upon finding out they are HIV positive decide to simply not date. However, she feels this is not healthy for that individual either in the long run, as this causes the individual to feel closed-off and often depressed.
Telling Loved Ones Can Be Both Beneficial, And Hurtful:
“You have to educate the person you want to date,” says Blane Oborny, a patient expert who found out he was HIV positive three years ago. Not only that, but oftentimes the family of the HIV positive person needs to be educated on their loved one’s new health status. Oborny first told his older sister that he was HIV positive. While she cried immediately, he affirmed to her that he was getting medical treatment and that he would inform and educate her about everything he knew.
While Oborny’s sister supported him, not all families and friends do. The social stigma associated with HIV has caused many HIV positive individuals to feel ashamed and endure discrimination because of the disease. Maithe Enriquez, a nurse practitioner at Truman Medical Center shares that some patients don’t want to take their medication, simply because they have to go to the pharmacy and ask for them. As most pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are familiar with the drugs and what they are for, these patients feel apprehensive and nervous to have these strangers know about their HIV status.
The Social Stigma Of HIV Brings Misconceptions:
There are of course plenty of HIV misconceptions that have carried over from the seventies and eighties when so much about HIV and AIDS was unknown. It is now know that you can not contract HIV by:
- drinking out of a glass after someone who is HIV positive
- using a toilet seat after an HIV positive individual has gone to the bathroom
What does contract HIV? Well, sex does. “In the heat of the moment, people typically do not think of using a barrier in sex,” says Oborny. In addition to unsafe sexual practices, people are often afraid to go get tested. “Everyone who gets health care should get an HIV test. But that is simply not happening,” says Nelson-Johns.
Education and prevention programs have resulted in an 89% decrease in the rate of HIV disease transmission, according to the Center for Disease Control. But there is still work to do. But there are still some who are unaware they're infected, and others avoid getting life-saving treatment because of shame and stigma. Discrimination and misinformation about how the disease is transmitted can make life still difficult, but the important thing is to get tested, seek medical help, and absolutely support people who are HIV positive throughout the process.
- Dr. Maithe Enriquez, Nurse Practitioner at Truman Medical Center
- Sara Nelson-Johns, Counselor at the KC Care Clinic
- Blane Oborny, Patient Expert