Considering the huge emotional burden associated with AIDS, having an effect on the individual’s personal, sexual, social as well as occupational functioning, it becomes increasingly important to recognize its magnitude as well as its impact on our society. Although the prevalence rate of AIDS has been estimated to be 0.3% among adults (UNAIDS, 2013), the World Health Organization estimates more than 1.5 million people died from HIV related causes globally in the year 2013. Moreover, according to a report by the UNICEF, India is home to the third largest number of people living with HIV in the world.
Associated stigma and discrimination Besides the mortality associated with AIDS, individuals infected with HIV are faced with the challenges of discrimination, and their families also find themselves shrouded in these feelings of shame and isolation. Being a sexually transmitted disease, most people attach a very strong moral stigma to the disease, shunning the HIV infected individuals not only due to a fear of contamination, but also with accusations. As a consequence, most HIV infected individuals find themselves fighting not only against the physical symptoms, but also carry a feeling of guilt growing from being blamed for having contracted their disease. This in turn could serve as a harbinger of suicide as well, considering the negative psychological connotations like isolation, hopelessness and lack of support.
Importance of open communication One of the worst outcomes of such stigma and discrimination is the lack of openness to communicate about HIV related issues. In efforts of the individual and his/her families to hide the facts, not only do many cases remain underreported and untreated, but this also increases the risk of HIV infections. It is important to encourage open communication about HIV and AIDS to ensure education and awareness about the disease. Moreover, it is especially necessary to create sensitization among the youth, as use of injectable drugs, unprotected sex, and intrusive procedures like tattooing or piercing have been found to be leading causes of HIV transmission in India (NACO, 2011). We need to address the children and the youth of the country to sensitize them towards HIV in order to prevent as well as to reduce HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination.
Social responsibility It should be our social endeavour to create an open environment in which we can provide protection as well as support for people infected with HIV. Without a reduction in the stigma associated with HIV, individuals would not be willing for voluntary HIV investigations. Myths and misconceptions need to be clarified, and individuals need to be empathetic to the needs of the HIV infected people, learning to respect their rights, and looking at them as holistic individuals, versus defining them solely by their diagnosis or disease. Community engagement and commitment is required to actively challenge stigma whenever encountered. We need to help people to talk about and discuss such topics at open forums, to empower all individuals with an understanding of HIV and AIDS, and to enable them to condemn stigma and instead create sensitivity towards their needs. Every year, the 1st of December is commemorated as World AIDS Day by the WHO, in efforts to provide an opportunity to people to garner their support and unite in the fight against HIV. The need of the hour is not just spreading awareness but sensitizing the people. We all need to be able to identify and relate to the suffering associated with HIV, and be willing to talk about such issues openly. This will go a long way in not just providing a strong support system to the HIV infected individuals who are usually isolated, but also will help in education, sensitization as well as prevention of AIDS.