Let us talk openly about HIV

Together we can stop HIV related stigma

Talking Openly about HIV

The first step to stopping HIV is talking openly about it. For some people, it may feel uncomfortable and embarrassing at first, but talking openly about HIV can help make these conversations less awkward. By sharing accurate information about HIV, we can make sure that everyone learns the facts, including how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent getting HIV.

Every conversation we have about HIV helps eliminate the stigma often associated with the disease. Stigma is the shame or disgrace tied to something viewed as socially unacceptable. Labeling and stereotyping people based on prejudice against a certain trait leads to stigma which sets these people apart from the rest of society and can keep people from accessing medical care, employment, etc. Stigma also leads to feelings of shame and isolation among those discriminated against, leading many to deny symptoms and delay or avoid treatment. More than three decades after initial HIV diagnoses were made, stigma remains a barrier to stopping HIV in Kenya and the rest of the world. Certain words and language used in the context of HIV and AIDS may have negative meaning for those at high-risk or who are living with HIV and may result in real or perceived stigma, discrimination, fear, and anxiety, which prevents some people from getting tested and treated. We can all start by being thoughtful about our words, and choosing to use supportive—rather than stigmatizing—language when talking openly about HIV.

When having conversations about HIV and sharing messages on social media or other media and communications outlets, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Keep language general. Using exaggerated phrases or exclamation marks in some contexts may fuel stigma, discrimination, fear and anxiety.
  • Tune in and listen to what the other person might have to say. Correct myths about HIV by sharing the facts.
  • Consider the preferred terms below to avoid promoting stigma and misinformation.
Problematic word or phrase Preferred word or phrase
AIDS (when referring to the virus, HIV) HIV or HIV and AIDS when referring to both
Why: AIDS is a range of conditions, or a syndrome, that occurs when a person’s immune system is weakened by the HIV infection. AIDS itself is not an infection. Use each term separately or both when referring to both but do not use HIV/AIDS because this suggests that the terms are interchangeable. A person with AIDS is HIV-positive, but not everyone who is HIV-positive has developed or will develop AIDS.
To catch AIDS
To get AIDS
To catch HIV
To pass on HIV
To be diagnosed with HIV
To acquire HIV
To transmit HIV
Why: AIDS cannot be caught or transmitted. People can become infected with HIV. HIV can be transmitted, but not inherited.
Unprotected sex Sex without a condom or medicines to prevent or treat HIV.
Body fluids Blood, amniotic fluid, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluids, breast milk.
Why: Only some body fluids transmit HIV. ‘Body fluids’ cover all fluids coming from the body and not just those involved in HIV transmission. Be specific if you can. Knowing the facts can help reduce stigma.
To battle HIV/AIDS
War against HIV/AIDS
Response to HIV and AIDS
Why: These terms may be considered militaristic and stigmatizing that may lead to the thinking that people living with HIV have to be ‘fought’ or eliminated.
High(er) risk group(s)
Groups with high risk behavior
High risk behavior (unprotected sex, use of contaminated needles, etc.)
Highly affected communities
Key populations
Key populations at higher risk
Why: These terms imply that membership of a particular group, rather than engaging in certain behaviors, can be the cause of becoming HIV positive. They may give a false sense of security to those who do not self-identify with one of these groups.
Person/people with HIV
Person/people living with HIV
Why: Some people living with HIV feel these terms imply that they are powerless, with no control over their lives. Also, these terms segregate the people currently living with HIV.
AIDS patient
HIV patient
Person with HIV
Person living with HIV
HIV-positive person
Why: A patient is someone who is seen by medical personnel in a medical setting. Outside of that clinical context, the person should not be referred to as a patient. The term implies a constant state of illness that can be misleading and demoralizing.
AIDS or HIV carrier
HIV-positive people/person
People/person living with HIV
Why: These terms may be offensive and stigmatizing to people living with HIV. A person is not HIV. A person lives with HIV once infected with the virus.

Remember, a conversation does not have to be face-to-face. Whether you talk, type, or text, what is important is that you start the conversation about HIV and pay particular attention to the words that you use in order to avoid labeling and stereotyping people living with HIV. No matter how you choose to be involved in the response to HIV, you can show your support by educating yourself and others about HIV and being thoughtful about the words you choose to use when talking about HIV. Used correctly and carefully, our words can be an important and powerful tool to stopping HIV and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV.

Article courtesy of CDC: Act against HIV


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