Raising Awareness and Ending the Stigma: How Education on HIV and Hepatitis Makes a Difference  

Watch this webinar here!

In July, the United States Department of Health and Human Services is raising awareness about hepatitis and HIV stigma. Each month, these National Health Observances are prioritized with the goal of improving health across the U.S. through education and spreading awareness.  

July 21 – Zero Stigma HIV Day  

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), HIV stigma is negative attitudes and beliefs about people with HIV, which can lead to discrimination against affected individuals. To avoid the associated stigma, individuals may choose to forgo necessary testing, treatment and preventative care for HIV, increasing their risk of transmission and severity of infection. 

So, what is HIV? HIV – also known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus – is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, making the body more susceptible to other infections and diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 39 million people are living with HIV. 

The virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids of someone with HIV. The virus is most commonly spread through unprotected sex, sharing injection drug equipment or accidental sticks with a used injectable [HIV.gov].  

While there is no cure for HIV, there are effective methods of prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, making the virus more manageable. Prevention methods include condoms, antiretroviral therapy, pre-exposure prophylaxis, using sterilized injection equipment and getting tested [WHO]. 

The best way to end the stigma surrounding HIV? Normalize it by talking about the subject openly, making information about HIV more common. This can stop the spread of misconceptions and helps spread information on prevention and treatment options.  

The CDC lists examples of HIV stigma as:  

  • Believing that only certain groups of people can get HIV 
  • Making moral judgements about people who take steps to prevent HIV transmission 
  • Feeling that people deserve to get HIV because of their choices  

The stigma surrounding HIV may lead to individuals with HIV being discriminated against and treated differently than those without HIV.  

The CDC lists examples of discrimination as:  

  • A health care professional refusing to provide care to services to a person living with HIV 
  • Refusing casual contact with someone living with HIV  
  • Socially isolating a member of a community because they are HIV positive 

Ending the stigma around HIV is an ongoing effort made possible through educating yourself and others, reducing common misconceptions and providing access to preventative care, testing and treatment options.  

For HIV testing, please visit https://locator.hiv.gov/ to find a testing location near you or attend a RAM Clinic. 

July 28 – World Hepatitis Day  

Each of the five strains of hepatitis can be caused by different infectious viruses and noninfectious agents, causing inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can lead to several health problems, some of which can be fatal. People with hepatitis may only experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Testing is the only way to determine if an individual has hepatitis [WHO].  

Hepatitis can be spread though exposure to contaminated food and water and contact with bodily fluids from someone with hepatitis. To prevent the spread of hepatitis, individuals should avoid exposure to bodily fluids and avoid sharing unsterile injectables. Other prevention methods include being vaccinated against hepatitis and prioritizing increased personal hygiene.  

Of the five strains, A (HAV), B (HBV) and E (HEV) are vaccine preventable, and Mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis D (HDV) can be prevented if the mother is vaccinated against HBV. Hepatitis C (HCV) cannot be prevented through vaccination [WHO]. 

WHO estimates that 354 million people worldwide live with hepatitis B or C. Most are unable to obtain testing and treatment. According to WHO, premature deaths may be prevented if treatment and testing are available. 

“Internalized stigma” and “self-stigma” occur when an individual applies negative ideas and stereotypes to themselves. This can lead to feelings of shame, fear of disclosure, isolation and despair [CDC]. These feelings may lead an individual to neglect the necessary testing and treatment.  

To learn more about hepatitis awareness and HIV stigma, join RAM’s free webinar on Thursday, July 11 at 7:00 p.m. (EDT) with Dr. Mark Schweizer, DDS and Mitch Handrich, NP. Together, we can raise awareness of prevention and treatment and help end the stigma surrounding HIV and hepatitis. 

You can watch the webinar here.

Other HIV and Hepatitis Resources:
https://www.hiv.uw.edu/
https://www.poz.com/
https://locator.hiv.gov/
https://www.who.int/health-topics/hepatitis#tab=tab_1