HIV Stigma

What is HIV stigma?

The word ‘stigma’ usually stands for a mark of disgrace, discrimination or a badge of shame towards a quality of a person, an illness or disapproval of personal characteristics which usually results in a person(s) mental health being affected negatively which ultimately makes it difficult for a such a person to live a happy and comfortable life.

By the year 1980, it is estimated that up to 300,000 people could have contracted HIV which caused a worldwide scare and fear of the unknown of what know today as HIV (human immunodeficiency disorder)

HIV very quickly developed a stigma as the general public, doctors, scientists and pretty much anybody that had heard of the term of HIV and/or AIDS were at a loss and had formed of a certain perception of HIV that still stands today as we’re still hearing terms such as;

  • Are you clean?
  • Death sentence
  • Keep away from him, he has HIV
  • Riddled
  • Full blown AIDS

We still unfortunately live in a very uneducated society based on the vocab many people are still using towards HIV, whether that’s using incorrect adjectives to describe the virus, asking people incorrectly how to disclose their status and a general spread of uneducated information stemming all the way back to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s.

Culturally Appropriate Vocabulary #LanguageMatters

There are many ways to reduce HIV stigma, however, we as human beings often make the mistake of using certain stigmatizing language without even knowing it! Take a look at this chart a group of educated individuals made to help reduce HIV stigma, take a look below and if you would like to add to this chart and/or you think something is missing please contact us here





HIV infected person

HIV patient



victim, innocent victim, sufferer, contaminated

person living with HIV
HIV infected woman woman living with HIV (WLHIV)
HIV infected mother mother living with HIV
HIV infected man  man living with HIV (MLHIV)
HIV infected infant infant with HIV/infant living with HIV
died of AIDS, to die of AIDS died of AIDS related illness, AIDS-related complications or end stage HIV
AIDS virus HIV (AIDS is a diagnosis not a virus it cannot be transmitted)
full-blown AIDS there is no medical definition for this phrase, simply use the term AIDS or stage 3 HIV
HIV virus this is redundant; use HIV
zero new infections zero new transmissions/acquisitions
HIV infections HIV transmissions, diagnosed with HIV
number of infections diagnosed with HIV
became infected contracted/acquired
HIV-exposed infant infant exposed to HIV
unprotected sex condomless sex; sex not protected by condoms or antiretroviral prevention methods such as TasP &/or PrEP
serodiscordant couple serodifferent/magetic/mixed status couple
mother to child transmission vertical transmission, perinatal transmission
are you clean? what is your status?
victim, innocent victim, sufferer, contaminated, infected person living with HIV (never use the term “infected” when referring to a person), survivor
AIDS orphans children orphaned by loss of parents or guardians who died of AIDS related complications
AIDS test HIV test
compliant adherent
prostitute or prostitution sex worker, sale of sexual services, transactional sex

Please also check out our #STIGMAWARRIOR campaign and hear stories from our amazing individuals who came forward to speak up and stamp out stigma. Read more