Living with HIV/AIDS is probably one of the best kept secrets that everyone knows.
Fear motivated by stigma related ignorance causes so many people living with HIV/AIDS to live their lives in secret, a secret that everyone knows. HIV related ignorance can not only be cruel but it can also be dangerous. Recently in Dallas, TX a young mother Cicely Bolden’s life was taken from her and her children lost their mother at the hands of ignorance. A young woman taken in the prime of her life and by a man, of his admission, provided us with the fact that it was ignorance. Society expects for people living with HIV to disclose so as to not put others at risk for acquisition. The same system that expects you to disclose will also criminalize that same person for exposure. If you disclose your status you are treated as a piranha and if you do not disclose your status and someone discover it you are treated as a piranha. It is almost a loose and loose situation.
In the very near future Cicely’s story will become almost an afterthought, with its news worthiness coming to a slow halt, and her funeral on the horizon. What happens when the lights grow dim and there’s not another story that can be squeezed from this tragedy? What happens if we don’t demand an end of this too often violence enacted upon women? What happens is it will continue. The reality of it is Cicely's is just one story of so many more that’s yet to be told and those still being written. Many women living with HIV/AIDS live with the fear and the reality of being physically abused an abuse that could very easily lead to their death should they disclose their status. The abuse doesn’t stop there women are also mentally and emotionally abused; which can very easily lead to challenges with staying and getting into healthcare and remaining.
The Price of Disclosure
Disclosure of one’s HIV status is a choice and the choice to disclose or not disclose should not come with price of a life. It should also not come with fear of physical harm and the loss of basic human needs such as housing, safety, and love. According to a study from The World Health Organization “Violence is not only a risk factor for HIV infection it also is becoming increasingly clear that violence is also a result of the epidemic. A woman disclosing her HIV status may be put at risk of violence and/or abandonment. In US, a study of HIV infected women found that 20.5% reported physical harm since being diagnosed HIV positive.”
Your health status is your health status be it HIV or any disease that one find themselves living with. Should one decide to share their health status it should be done so free of the fear of physical harm or even death? How do we really think that we will see the end of this epidemic when we can’t even see the end of stigma which continues to fuel the fire of ignorance that end in tragedy. Stigma is not to be down played the same ignorance that caused the death of a young mother, is the same stigma that can be a barrier to women receiving life sustaining care and treatment. That same ignorance can lead people to living lonely and isolated lives shunned by the people who said they love them most.
Remember the life Cicely Bolden as her family prepares to say their final good bye to her in the next 24 hours. While paying tribute to her life commit to ending this epidemic by ending the stigma. Commit to putting an end to the ignorance that snubbed a life that leaves us one short in the battle to end a war against women. We can end the HIV epidemic when we end stigma.