Facing Up to Stigma and Discrimination

Facing Up to Stigma and Discrimination

June 1, 2016
Man Contemplating

The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program was in part a response to the terrible early days of AIDS discrimination, brought to public consciousness by Ryan, his mom Jeanne, and countless others. While thankfully behind us, stigma still remains a troubling obstacle that causes some individuals to avoid being tested or receiving care for fear of being exposed and marked. 

HRSA and multiple Ryan White agencies have been chipping away at HIV stigma for many years, having long recognized its negative impact as a barrier to care. (A robust collection of anti-stigma resources is available on this site's Stigma/Legal topic page, along with reflections in HIV/AIDS Stigma and the History of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. For more, see the sidebar links on AIDS.Gov HIV/AIDS Awareness Days and CDC's anti-stigma efforts.)

Telenovelas Confront Stigma

Among the Ryan White providers battling stigma with tailored initiatives is a HRSA-funded agency based in Los Angeles. AltaMed--a recipient of both Ryan White and HRSA Health Center grants--has produced a video series called Sin Vergüenza, a bilingual telenovela series that, soap opera style, is intended "to tackle shame and stigma associated with HIV within the Latino community" by stimulating discussions of HIV prevention and treatment.  

AltaMed uses the videos "to spark dialogue" in its programs and HIV positive support groups. For the new season of the series, AltaMed is also hosting community viewings in partnership with CDC’s We Can Stop HIV One Conversation at a Time/Podemos Detener el VIH Una Conversación a la Vez campaign. As of May 2016, Season 2 had over 203,000 views. Most are from California, Texas, Florida, and New York and most viewers are 18-34 years old. A formal evaluation to assess viewers change in knowledge around perinatal transmission, PrEP and treatment adherence is being carried out with California State University's Long Beach’s Department of Psychology.

The 2020 update of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes stigma as a major barrier to care, putting it front and center in the Strategy's vision statement that every person with HIV infection "will have unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination" (see sidebar).

Sin Vergüenza was released in 2012 for World AIDS Day. The series is featured in many anti-stigma efforts, including HRSA's AETC border project UMBAST, which conducts clinical training for providers along the U.S.-Mexico border. UMBAST uses the video series, which translates to "without shame," to train community educators called promotores to help them discuss HIV with individuals living in the border region, one of the poorest and most underserved areas of the United States.