By Almas Shamim

What if you were told your best friend was HIV positive?

What if you were told YOU were HIV positive?

Would your reactions and emotions to the above two questions be the same? Would you feel equally confused and shocked at the two disclosures? Would you judge your friend and yourself using the same measures?


These and many more questions become very relevant when we talk about the discrimination that HIV positive people across the world face. The stigma associated with being HIV+ keeps many ‘positive people’ from disclosing their status to even their friends and family members. Disclosure can bring major changes in the way people treat you. There have been instances where ‘positive’ school kids have been expelled from school, ‘positive’ employees have been suspended from jobs and ‘positive’ daughters-in-law have been thrown out from their husbands’ homes.

The recent statement by Charlie Sheen, the actor from the American television series “Two and a Half Men”, famous for his sexist remarks on women, on his HIV positive status, drew mixed comments from viewers. While some came out in support of the actor’s brave move of opening up to the audiences about his status, some others criticized him for being so late in doing so, yet others simply hating on the fact that he is HIV positive. It is this ‘hatred’ for HIV positive people which is worrisome.

The fear that we may be discriminated against forces many to never even consider getting tested. Some of us would rather get a disease and die than find out if we have an infection and try to curb it. Some others amongst us would make the effort to get tested but if found positive, would not even care to inform it to their sexual partners. Some others, who may get tested and inform their families about their status, still face discrimination on a daily basis by people who refuse to sit beside them, work with them or even talk to them. Such behavior has a huge impact on the mental well being of the patient and may even adversely affect the positive person’s will power to continue on HIV treatment: All this only due to the fear of being discriminated against.

We, as responsible citizens, should remember that the mark of a truly developed society is not just in making a treatment available to the patients, but in ensuring that these patients are accepted as whole beings and treated with the same dignity and respect that every other individual expects. We must make ourselves aware of the transmission pattern of these highly stigmatized diseases and take preventive measures against them but we must ensure that by adopting these preventive means, we aren’t in any way encroaching upon the rights of another person and not discriminating against the people who have already acquired these infections/ diseases. This will not only help in building  cohesive and caring society, but also, ensure that HIV infected people adhere to their treatment and be active members in preventing the transmission of the infection.

Leaving you with two interesting videos on HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination.

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi