HIV stigma reduction should be at core of global HIV response, say panelists

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Anne Stangl of ICRW.

Anne Stangl of ICRW.

When Regan Hoffman first moved to Washington D.C., she was asked by a potential landlord why she worked in HIV/AIDS advocacy.  Fearing discrimination, she hesitated before saying that she works in HIV advocacy because she’s infected with the disease herself.  Her landlord said he didn’t care about her status, and she breathed a sigh of relief. She was even more heartened to see that Whitman Walker Health was located just down the street from her new apartment.  After being denied services by a dentist in rural New Jersey, Whitman Walker was a welcome sight.

Hoffman recalled these experiences at an event launching the new Journal of the International AIDS Society supplement, “Global Action to Reduce HIV Stigma and Discrimination,” which examines HIV stigma in a variety of contexts and settings, and explores its impact on the global HIV response. “We’ve solved the scientific problem and how to reach people over the last 15 years but we still don’t know how to break this barrier,” she said.

The foreword of the supplement, penned by Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Eric Goosby, former US Global AIDS Coordinator, notes that HIV-related stigma and discrimination continue to endanger people living with HIV and the global HIV response, preventing millions of people from coming forward for testing and prevention and treatment services.

Hoffman said that while countries have stigma reduction goals in national HIV plans, they don’t have the tools to see them out.

Anne Stangl, a scientist with the International Center for Research on Women, said, “Reducing stigma should be at the core of the global HIV response, and no longer at the fringes.” In order for recent biomedical interventions, such as treatment as prevention, to be successful, she said, they need to reach the most vulnerable populations who also face the greatest levels of stigma, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men.  “Stigma,” she said, “hinders every step in the care continuum.”

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