Stigma is a form of prejudice that discredits or rejects an individual or group because they are seen to be different from ourselves or from the mainstream. When people act on their prejudice, stigma turns into discrimination. HIV-related stigma arises mostly from fear and ignorance about the disease and/or hostility and existing prejudices about the groups most affected by it (e.g., gay men). HIV-related discrimination is the unfair treatment of people on the basis of their actual or suspected HIV status. Discrimination against people living with HIV also extends to those populations at risk of HIV (e.g., men who have sex with men and people who injection drugs)
The stigma associated with HIV can lead to isolation, which can affect the quality of life of people living with HIV. Stigma and discrimination can also make people who are at risk of HIV less willing to be tested and those with HIV less able to seek treatment, care and support. Blaming those people living with or affected by HIV for their situation, or abusing them forces the epidemic underground, creating the ideal conditions for HIV to spread.
Canadians’ attitudes and opinions toward people living with HIV were assessed in a national study in 2012. In this study, 69% of respondents felt that people may be unwilling to disclose their HIV status because of the stigma associated with HIV. Furthermore, 55% felt that people with HIV may experience difficulty with basic activities such as finding housing, healthcare or employment because of the stigma. The results of the survey also show that stigma and discrimination still exist in Canada for people living with HIV. Seventy-one percent of Canadians have little tendency to stigmatize people living with HIV, although 22% hold a moderate degree of stigma toward people with HIV and another 7% exhibit a high level of stigma. Many community-based organizations have developed initiatives to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and/or communities affected by HIV.