Stigma is a social construct which means a mark of disgrace. If human brain identifies a thing or an event as having negative impact, it has a tendency to withdraw from it. This biological response takes on a behavioural connotation in terms to negative attitude towards a certain entity/group or place. AIDS has been identified as such a negative entity because of the associated fear of an untreatable illness with huge morbidity and economic cost. The social attitude towards those suffering from AIDS is thus a result of an underlying social phobia of contracting an un treatable illness. There are also a number of myths associated with mode of transmission of HIV which, despite a lot of positive media intervention continues to persist due to negative and often false messages spreading on social media.
Dealing with Stigma as an individual disease-
- Social Support– Patients who are HIV positive are themselves going through a major traumatic experience. Fear of discrimination and isolation makes them stay quiet about their problems and they are unable to seek help and support. Social support from friends, family and colleagues is important in helping them deal with associated stigma.
- Individual Support– psychological intervention is recommended right before the HIV test is undertaken in terms of pre test counselling. People with positive HIV test results should be as a rule, referred to a psychological counsellor or therapist in order to identify and deal with associated stress and negative psychological impact of the disease.
Dealing with stigma as a social disease-
- Negative social media campaign needs to be addressed. HIV does not spread by eating bananas or pine apples with HIV positive blood injected in food. Rumours need to be countered with spreading correct information about disease transmission.
- The stigma associated with socially condemned practices like individual sexual preferences and drug addiction need to be separately addressed. AIDS is the result of a particular viral infection and not the result of a certain practice.
- AIDS does not spread by social contact, nor does it affect the intellect or ability of person to function in their vocation unless the disease process affects the brain. Discrimination at work place needs to be addressed as part of the educational campaign at work place.
- Educational institutions including schools now have awareness programs to spread correct information about AIDS.
The AIDS related Anxiety Disorder has escalated in past few years and needs to be treated like any other hypochondriasis. The health professionals need to be sensitized so that repetitive unnecessary tests can be avoided and the psychiatric problem is treated.
HIV infection can be largely contained now with available antiviral medication. Patients with suspected infection need to be guided and supported so that they can take help.