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Black People With HIV Face Double Stigmatization
by GayHealth Staff

A new report about the connections between race, gender and HIV makes recommendations for action to address treatment and prevention inadequacies throughout the world.

The paper, entitled "HIV-related Intolerance: Exploring the Links between Racism, Stigma and Discrimination," was discussed at The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa during the first week of September.


People all over the world associate HIV/AIDS with Black people and with Africa, according to the report. In the eight African countries with HIV prevalence of at least 15 percent, approximately one third of today’s population of 15 year-olds can expect to die from AIDS, the report noted.

This is not just the case in Africa. In the US, "African Americans are more likely than whites to contract acquired immune deficiency treatment, or AIDS," according to Helene Gayle, Head of the US CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention. African Americans are also less likely to receive adequate treatment, Gayle added. Statistics are evidence of the changing face of HIV/AIDS. While most cases of AIDS in the early 1980s occurred among white people, in 1996 more cases were reported among Blacks than any other racial/ethnic population, according to the report. Of the 322,865 reported AIDS cases in the US at the end of the year 2000, 61 percent were among African Americans or Hispanics.

While some people are discriminated against purely on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, more frequently it is coupled with something else such as sexual orientation, race or gender. The report cited research in India and Uganda that found women with HIV are stigmatized as both women and as people with HIV.

"People with HIV/AIDS from minority ethnic groups are often blamed for their condition. They are viewed as causing their own misfortune rather than as individuals suffering from inequality," said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The report also addressed the connection between poverty and HIV. Being poor often means having a limited access to healthcare. A person who can't afford treatment for sexually transmitted infections is one example. Not getting treatment for STDs increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Poor women may also engage in unprotected sex in exchange for desperately needed money, the report added.

Quality of life can also impact how well people take care of themselves. "In the face of disintegrating family and community structures, people may be encouraged to live only for the present and to use sex to satisfy a range of other emotional needs," said the report.

Where do we go from here? The authors recommend urgent action in several areas. On the top of the list is the need to educate people and to eradicate the false notion that HIV is someone else’s problem. The report also calls for the development of community-based prevention and healthcare programs that address racial and economic imbalances as well as cultural rationales for dangerous behaviors. In addition, there is a need for data collection in the area of race, gender and economics.

Continuing a dialogue about the report and creating community alliances is of great importance. "HIV thrives on intolerance and xenophobia. It is always easier to blame others for the spread of HIV but progress against the epidemic is only possible when communities own the problem of AIDS themselves," Dr Piot said.

Updated: Wednesday, 3 October 2001


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