March 6, 2012
On May 18, 2011, the New York Post decided to publish an "exclusive" article titled, "Hotel Maid in HIV Shock." The article covered emerging details surrounding the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual-assault case.
But the paper's deliberate sensationalism of the victim's HIV status struck a blow to the anti-HIV stigma work that many people see as the African and Caribbean immigrant communities' number-one barrier to helping immigrants receive HIV testing, treatment and support in the U.S.
While effective treatments have dramatically changed the fight against HIV/AIDS, HIV stigma and discrimination remain high within the African diaspora community. Far too many people fear being ostracized and isolated by their community -- conditions often unbearable to a new immigrant alone in a foreign country.
The chief contributors to such stigma include: the fact that people possess varying levels of English literacy, education and HIV awareness; the impact of traditional values and social norms; the economic and legal disincentives to disclosing HIV status; and limited opportunities for becoming economically self sufficient -- all of which cause immigrants to stigmatize themselves, often even before they experience stigma from others.
The African Services Committee (ASC) helps people with HIV/AIDS who are ill, homeless and hungry. ASC fosters dialogue, promotes compassion and enhances people's capacity for positive living with HIV/AIDS. However, these actions alone cannot create communities that accept people who are living with the virus.
So in 2010, ASC partnered with the New York City Department of Health to begin a multimedia social marketing and outreach campaign, "Would You Do It?," intended to challenge African and Caribbean communities to confront stigma head on and stand in solidarity with those living with the disease. By recruiting influential and respected residents to deliver these messages on subway posters, billboards, website and online video, we're doing everything we can to get people's attention and keep it!
Impact is being made and conversations are happening, but improvements in stigma are difficult to measure. Ultimately individuals must work collectively to create a compassionate community.
Amanda Lugg is the director of advocacy for the African Services Committee, a non-profit organization that improves the health and self-sufficiency of the African community in New York City and beyond.