Living with HIV - and the stigma that goes with it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 5:11am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 5:11am

People infected with HIV feel stigmatised by their illness, local researchers have found.

Chinese University and non-government organisation the Aids Concern Foundation recently interviewed 291 "people living with HIV" - people who are infected with the virus but leading a healthy life.

It found that half of them felt stigmatised, while 17 per cent of those who had told people they had HIV had been insulted or discriminated against by family and friends.

About one-third of the interviewees had not told their spouse or partner they were infected with the virus.

"They tend to internalise it when they are stigmatised by others, such as when they are discriminated against," said Mandy Cheung Hiu-wah, programme director of Aids Concern. "We find that the more they internalise the stigma, the worse their mental well-being."

Releasing the research findings yesterday, Cheung said many people were still confused about how the virus was transmitted.

The survey, which was conducted between December 2012 and September last year, found that 9 per cent of those who had told people they had HIV were denied health-care services.

Five per cent said they were fired or forced to quit their jobs because they had the virus.

Cheung reminded health-care professionals and employers that people who have HIV are protected by the Disability Discrimination Ordinance and should not be subjected to discrimination or stigma when receiving health-care services, looking for jobs or in their daily lives.

She added that with proper treatment, people with HIV could lead healthy lives, without infecting others. And Cheung noted that with standard precautionary measures to protect health-care professionals from infection, those with HIV should not be treated differently.

Psychology associate professor Winnie Mak Wing-sze, of the university, said the research was a first step in developing an HIV stigma index, and investigating the experiences of people with HIV in Hong Kong.

Mak added that stigmatising people with HIV would worsen their quality of life.

She said those infected with the virus should seek medical care when needed, and support from peer groups, which could be contacted via non-government organisations.