HIV: Death by Stigma

A number of publications are suggesting that at least 25% of those living with HIV/AIDS are unaware that they are infected. In the Third World, the decision to avoid confirmation is primarily driven by the fear of being abandoned or beaten. Lack of any cure or consistent health care further diminishes incentive to seek out diagnosis. Ostracization and violence against women with HIV/AIDS are commonplace. In the largely patriarchal societies, the generally accepted thinking is that women are to blame for spread of infection. Thus, with little recourse against her husband, an infected wife lacks the incentive to draw any attention to herself.

A good number of the 17.7 million women estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS globally are dying by the tens of thousands, choosing this fate rather than facing the isolation and stigma associated with HIV infection. Up to 29% of the pregnant women in South Africa have HIV/AIDS1. In 2008, the WHO suggested that only 26% of pregnant women seek treatment and education to prevent HIV transmission. As a result of this rate, 2.2 million children live with HIV/AIDS, most of them infected during the birthing and breastfeeding process. When one considers that half of all HIV-positive children die in the absence of treatment by the age of two2 , the stigma of HIV/AIDS has become a global killer.


  1. The National HIV & Syphilis Prevalence Survey South Africa 2007
  2. Guardian (2007, March 12th) ‘Children born with HIV survive into teens
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