At the beginning of the century, 1.7 million people died from HIV/AIDS annually. Today, the landscape looks drastically different, with 2021 recording 650,000 HIV-related deaths. This data reveals a 65% drop since the epidemic’s peak in 2004, but it also shows that hundreds of thousands of people are still dying from a preventable and treatable illness.

As is the case with COVID-19 and monkeypox, the fight to end HIV/AIDS is hindered by inequitable access to treatment and other resources. But stigma is another reason why more than 1 million new people continue to get HIV annually. HIV-related stigma can stem from the community, the health care system, or individuals themselves. But regardless of its source, its impact is the same.

“Even up to this day, HIV-related stigma is one of the biggest challenges that we are still trying to work on, and that keeps people from accessing support, care, prevention, and treatment,” Winnie Sseruma, a UK-based activist who has been living with HIV for more than three decades, told Global Citizen.

Public awareness campaigns, support from within the HIV/AIDS community, and increased access to treatment have all helped to reduce stigma over the last 30 years. But communities around the world, especially marginalized ones, continue to feel its impact.

HIV/AIDS is often inaccurately labelled as a “gay disease,” even though it can infect anyone and is not only transmitted sexually. In the dozens of countries that still enforce homophobic laws or HIV-related travel bans, people can be discouraged from getting tested and taking treatment. But even in countries where HIV/AIDS is not designated a “gay disease,” people can be ostracized from society or discriminated against for being HIV-positive.

Read the full article about HIV/AIDS stigma by Kristine Liao at Global Citizen.