*The following narrative is from one of our HIV-positive scholarship applicants. It has been minimally changed to remove any identifying information.*
As someone who was born HIV-positive and is currently working in the HIV field as a housing specialist, I have seen and witnessed firsthand the effects stigma has on a person’s health. Stigma is defined as the shame and guilt that are attached to a topic that is considered socially unacceptable. Over the years I have seen many people, both living with HIV or affected by HIV be discriminated against simply because they are either HIV-positive themselves or have relationships with HIV-positive individuals.
In my own personal history I have been discriminated against due to my HIV status. I have been discriminated against in many ways, but I think the most horrific experience I have had was being discriminated against by a medical doctor.
I was approximately 10 years old at the time, living in the Philippines when became ill due to an ear infection. When I was taken to the hospital by my mother, we were told that they, the doctors, would not be able to see me due to my HIV status. They were afraid that they might contract the disease by working with me.
This had a great effect on my well-being, so much so that I no longer wished to go to the doctor’s office – something that is extremely necessary for HIV-positive individuals. I was ashamed that people, even medical doctors, who were supposedly trained in the field of HIV, were afraid of me. For the duration of my stay in the Philippines -4 years- I did not return to the doctor’s office, nor did I take my antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication for fear I might be discriminated against again.
Luckily, or rather, thankfully, my viral load managed to remain undetectable however. Were I not so lucky, this could have turned out for the worst. When I returned to the States, the doctors were much more accepting of my HIV status and I was eventually able to return to care.
What I wish I could have done then was educate the Philippine doctors on how exactly HIV is contracted. They believed only LGBT individuals, drug users and careless individuals contracted the virus. I would like to tell them that the stigma they allow to occur does not help with the internalized stigma HIV-positive individuals face on a daily basis, in fact it only exasperates the internalized stigma. This is partially the reason I work in the HIV field – to educate those who are unaware of the true causes and effects stigma has. Once I finish my degree, I will be able to assist the HIV-affected community on a much larger scale.