Myths and stigma related to HIV

There are several myths about HIV. A myth is a story that many people know or have heard somewhere but that isn’t true. One myth about HIV, for instance, is that only people with loose sexual morals can get HIV. Another myth is that physicians will discuss your health with others. Such myths preserve the stigma and taboo related to HIV.

Taboo and stigma

HIV is still taboo and a lot of stigma is attached to it. This is partly due to a lack of knowledge about HIV. Finding out that you are HIV-positive is very difficult for almost everyone and it takes time to come to terms with this message. Although the available medication against HIV is very effective, learning to live with HIV is sometimes difficult. You may suffer from certain symptoms, especially if you are not using any HIV medication. Or if no medication is available.

Loose morals?

Living with HIV can also be difficult because of the taboo and stigma related to HIV in some cultures. In many African cultures, for instance, it is considered a great disgrace when someone gets infected with HIV. Becoming infected with HIV is easily associated with loose sexual morals or homosexuality. But this is not necessarily the case and besides, it makes no difference how someone gets infected with HIV. Still, mostly women are at risk of being given the cold shoulder and sometimes even of being expelled from their community. Out of shame and fear many people therefore keep quiet and are afraid to get tested. As a result they discover that they have HIV at a very late stage. The damage done to their health by then might have been prevented had they been tested and treated sooner.

Again: it makes no difference how someone gets infected with HIV! It is much more important to start treatment with the right medication as soon as possible.

Fear of testing and treatment

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For some groups of Dutch immigrants getting tested for HIV and other STIs is quite an obstacle. They are ashamed to go to a physician when they have been at risk of infection. Sometimes they are even afraid that the physician may talk about them with others. In the Netherlands each physician and nurse has a duty of confidentiality. This means that they may not share any information about your health with others without your permission, including your relatives. So if the test shows that you have HIV or another STI the physician is not at liberty to disclose this to anyone else.

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