Stigma and discrimination

The effects of HIV-related stigma and discrimination continue to be major barriers to dealing effectively with the HIV epidemic in Australia and around the world.

The impact of stigma is not only felt by individuals living with HIV but also has direct consequences on Australia’s public health response to the epidemic by undermining prevention, care and treatment efforts.

HIV stigma can deter people at risk of acquiring HIV from being tested, and deter HIV-positive people from accessing appropriate treatment and care.

HIV-related stigma persists in Australia, preventing people living with HIV from disclosing their status to friends and family, employers and work colleagues, health care providers and insurance companies; not to mention prospective sexual and/or romantic partners.

Stigma, discrimination and criminalisation experienced by people among communities most affected by HIV – particularly gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who use drugs and sex workers – can also undermine prevention programs, and access to testing and treatment. 

The National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) conducted a project to try and understand stigma in an Australian context – the Stigma Audit. The Stigma Audit showed a moderate experience of stigma was experienced by participants who completed the survey.

  • 34% of respondents agreed with ‘I feel guilty because I have HIV’
  • 77% agreed with ‘telling someone I have HIV is risky
  • 35% disagreed with ‘I never feel ashamed of having HIV’
  • 42% agreed with ‘I work hard to keep my HIV a secret’
  • 40% agreed with ‘most people think that a person with HIV is disgusting’
  • 40% agreed with ‘I have been hurt by how people reacted to learning I have HIV’.

Notably, the media was singled out as an ongoing source of stigma for people living with HIV.