Erasing stigma

Three letters
will never define us.

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The only thing I could think of was the nurse with braces… she was shaking because of the HIV. She was terrified of it. She was terrified of me because I have it. Is that what I am now… something to be feared? This was my first interaction with someone who knew I was HIV positive.

Adam, Keeper of Courage & Change Motivator

Research shows that HIV stigma is rooted in a fear of HIV and misinformation, triggered early on during the 1980's AIDS epidemic. Reluctance to speak openly and honestly about what was happening led to misunderstanding and myths about HIV.

Despite game changing medical advances in effective treatment for people living with HIV, in this age of misinformation and disinformation, the fear and distorted facts about how HIV is transmitted, and what it means to live with HIV still grip us today.

Ultimately, stigma blocks access to HIV testing, treatment and support services making transmission of the virus more likely.


internalized stigma

Check out the
forms of stigma.

Internalized or ‘self stigma’

It's what we feel inside – absorbing negative attitudes, beliefs or perceptions about living with HIV. For many of us, this can be feeling guilty,  ashamed, or even deserve to have HIV.


It can make us believe that we'll be discriminated against, or judged in negative ways if our HIV status becomes known. It can block us from meaningful relationships or being open with health care providers.


One’s actual experiences of stigma or discrimination in the real world and how it affects me… We see this often… whether by a health care provider putting on gloves to treat us, or a customer refusing to eat food cooked by someone living with HIV.

...with a dose of humility and a deepened connection to people who experience stigma, we can deconstruct the "us versus them" narrative and develop the most inclusive health system in the world.

Dr. Theresa Tam,
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada


had concerns about
disclosing their HIV

What’s at stake?

So what's at stake? To start, emotional well-being and mental health - and our overall health. The effects of stigma weigh heavy. HIV 'self-stigma' can lead to feelings of shame, fear of disclosure, isolation, and despair - these internal feelings can keep people from getting tested, getting access to doctors and treatments for HIV, and all of the other health and social services that are important.

It’s [stigma] not going to go away – as much as I'd like to say we'll totally eliminate it, It’s only a beautiful fantasy. Instead we need to learn how to use it... counteract it to make a positive impact.

Francisco Ibanez-Curasco,
HIV positive educator and community-based researcher

Check out the video, 'HIV Stigma 101' with Francisco and Muluba

Let’s erase stigma

The way forward is to break the silence––to speak up, to spark conversation and to share information. It’s about knowing the facts about HIV and correcting the myths, misinformation and misunderstanding. It’s about dispelling fear and shifting mindsets.

Public Health Canada proposes that we build on our Canadian multicultural and inclusive way of life, while at the same time openly recognize and name racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other stigmas related to social identities. We can stop using dehumanizing language, examine our own assumptions, and implement policies and education programs, while also measuring our progress towards stigma elimination across the health system.

The science is in:

If you're living with HIV, in treatment and maintain an undetectable viral load, you can have sex knowing that you won’t pass HIV to your partner. When HIV is undetectable, it’s untransmittable!

Learn more about U=U, and prevention

...this [U=U] is absolutely vital... we need to be shouting it from the rooftops! We need to really help other service providers, clinicians as well as people living with HIV and their sexual partners know and be comfortable with this information because it truly is groundbreaking.

Laurie Edmiston,
Executive Director, Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange

Listen to the full Pozcast discussion about U=U

Words and actions matter!

Help end HIV stigma through what we say

Check out these stigma scenarios for tips on what you can do when you witness stigma

How to talk about HIV

Talking openly about HIV can help normalize it – let’s be mindful of how we talk about HIV and to people living with HIV

Download this helpful language guide

Every time I told somebody my status, especially in environments where I felt safe, I felt very empowered by it… let’s have frank conversations, let’s be open and let's break down stigma, judgment and all of it!

Watch Andre's video about overpowering stigma