At the end of September, Positive Life NSW (PLNSW) held a forum with people living with HIV (PLHIV), HIV service providers, and other representatives about the impacts of stigma and discrimination on PLHIV, especially in healthcare settings.

These included the impact of repeated trauma, shaming and ‘othering’ from healthcare providers, and the healthcare system more broadly.

Today, we know HIV doesn’t kill us, but stigma and discrimination do have a major impact on our health and wellbeing.

Stigma is that sense of disapproval about HIV which can be blatant and unmistakeable or something very slight; a look, a step back, a shake of the head, a word, or silence.

It can be found in a poorly crafted media article, or in the ill-informed words of a friend, relative, or stranger, and often intersects with prejudice based on ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

During the forum, we talked about how HIV stigma and discrimination made us feel, and we shared our personal stories about the impact it had on us in our daily lives and in healthcare settings.

Everyone mentioned feeling pressured to provide ‘education’ along with the companions of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice.  

A transgender woman spoke about the burden of shame, and the risk of isolation for PLHIV when they internalise negative feelings arising from stigma and discrimination.

An Asian gay man living with HIV shared how stigma and discrimination made him feel like a second class citizen.  

This ‘othering’ negatively affected his self-esteem and impacted on his ability to access clinical services.  

Clinicians shared how colleagues can unwittingly perpetuate stigma with their patients by exacerbating shame and trauma.

We also explored data from the Centre for Social Research in Health’s national Stigma Indicators Monitoring Project, which found that 25 per cent of the general public said they would behave negatively towards PLHIV because of their HIV status.

While the forum confirmed that HIV stigma and discrimination is a daily reality for us, it also highlighted our strengths and the ways we utilise a range of different strategies to manage HIV stigma and discrimination to combat fear of HIV, shame, and phobia.

It reminded us that PLHIV are resilient warriors in the battle against HIV stigma and discrimination, remaining actively engaged in our health and wellbeing.

Visit bit.ly/2018-SandDForum to read the HIV Stigma and Discrimination Forum Report.

If you live with HIV and are looking for some support or contact, call Positive Life on (02) 9206-2177 or look us up online at www.positivelife.org.au

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