This is Part 4 of the five-part statement “Five Things Media Makers Can Do NOW to Stand Up to HIV Stigma.” Read the full statement as a single article
- There are facts and there are fictions about HIV. Choose facts.
It is ridiculous that, more than 30 years and loads of research and lived experience into the HIV epidemic, we continue to encounter and fight the same myths and misinformation about HIV, in newspapers and on TV as well as in our daily lives.
Three key facts to remember:
a. HIV can only be transmitted through four body fluids getting into the body in very specific ways. The fluids that are capable of containing high concentrations of the virus – blood, semen, vaginal and rectal secretions, and breast milk – must come in direct contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to be possible. HIV transmission is not possible, under any circumstances, through a hug, a handshake, a toilet seat, sharing a cup, or eating food cooked by a person with HIV. Period. The fact that these myths persist in the general population is damaging to the wellbeing of people with HIV, and shows how great the need is for reporting on HIV that is not only accurate, but that actively counters misinformation.
b. People living with HIV can have HIV-negative babies. Now more than ever, women and men living with HIV are exercising their reproductive rights, and adding to their biological families. A baby born to a woman living with HIV has less than a 1% chance of acquiring HIV during pregnancy or birth if the baby’s mother has access to proper care and treatment. And if one partner in a couple is not living with HIV, the best prevention tool yet is for the partner who’s living with HIV to be on successful treatment. Then risk of transmission to the partner drops to virtually zero, even when having sex without condoms. Read more about that excellent and no-longer-new news here and here.
c. Laws that criminalize HIV-positive status do not protect or help women. As of this writing, 32 states and two US territories have HIV-specific laws that attach criminal penalties to the behavior and actions of people living with HIV. These laws are often framed in the media as protecting women “victims” from dishonest partners, but the laws help no one. These laws codify stigma, and actually deter people from getting tested or being in care (a person who doesn’t know their HIV status cannot be prosecuted for HIV nondisclosure or exposure), thereby hindering public health solutions. In most HIV-related prosecutions, no transmission of HIV even occurred! Further, women have been sent to prison under these laws, and/or had their children taken away for no reason – often by partners who knew the woman’s HIV status but used the laws as a tool of abuse, coercion, or harassment when the woman attempted to end the relationship. Making it a crime not to disclose HIV-positive status should never be framed as the answer to addressing HIV in communities or to keeping people HIV negative.
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