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New Guide Will Teach Docs to Deal With HIV Shame, Stigma

March 22, 2015

We know that shame and stigma can affect people living with HIV -- but how do they impact the experience HIV-positive people have accessing medical care? According to Phil Hutchinson, Ph.D., senior lecturer in philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University in the U.K. and author of the book Shame and Philosophy, shame and stigma can impede honest communication with providers, which can be a barrier to good care.

Hutchinson is collaborating on new guidelines for HIV clinicians in the U.K. that will provide guidance on mitigating shame and stigma around HIV. He is working on the guidelines with Professor Jane Anderson, the director of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Health and HIV at Homerton University Hospital in London.

In Medical News Today, Hutchinson pointed out that, while HIV treatment has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, in comparison the social, political and cultural aspects of HIV infection have barely moved forward.

Ironically, in a time when treatment is better than ever, people are missing out on the opportunity to access treatment by not knowing their status, due to the social stigma around HIV.

Hutchinson explained that, "When visiting a sexual health clinic and giving a stranger details of your past behavior, shame can be a significant contributing factor in people being less than honest."

Medical News Today reports that about 30% of people in the U.K. don't know that they're HIV positive. Up to half of those who have the diagnosis got it late, after having the virus for many years.

Hutchinson hopes that his research can help tackle stigma and shame with as much success as there has been scientific advancement in the past two decades.

"It's a huge problem in HIV -- it's a virus like any other and current antiretrovirals are very effective. Many people still have the 1980s idea of an HIV diagnosis meaning dying of AIDS," he said, adding that a full and healthy life is quite feasible today with access to treatment.

For Hutchinson, HIV is exacerbated by societal issues. "HIV serves as a vector for society's existing prejudices towards sexuality, sexual behavior, immigration, ethnicity and so on," he said. "The argument is that you can't think of HIV purely on the biomedical model because it's not just about the virus and the drugs."

This story was adapted from a story in Medical News Today.

Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for and You can follow him on Twitter at @mathewrodriguez, like his Facebook page or visit him on his personal website.

Copyright © 2015 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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