Ways to Stop HIV Stigma and Discrimination

Ways to Stop HIV Stigma

You might be wondering how you can address an issue as complex as HIV stigma. But there are many small things you can do that will make a big difference.

If each of us commits to making positive changes in our families and communities, we can help end HIV stigma and work to stop HIV together. Here are two resources to get you started:

    • Stigma Language Guide. The words we use matter. Learn how to talk openly about HIV and stigma in a way that can help empower those living with HIV.
    • Stigma Scenarios: Support in Action. Read through examples of situations that show how HIV stigma can happen in any setting and learn ways to take action.
    • Pledge Cards: A Commitment to Action. Make a pledge to help stop HIV stigma. Download our pledge cards to customize and post on your website, blog, social media channels, and other digital outlets.
Stigma Language Guide

Know how talk about HIV to avoid stigma. The words we use matter. Keep in mind that:

  • When talking about HIV, certain words and language may have a negative meaning for people at high risk for HIV or those who have HIV.
  • We can do our part to stop HIV stigma by being intentional and thoughtful when choosing our words, and choosing to use supportive—rather than stigmatizing— language when talking about HIV.

Consider using the preferred terms below to avoid promoting stigma and misinformation around HIV. You can also download this chart pdf icon[PDF – 618 KB] to share with others.

A Guide to Talking About HIV brochure thumbnail
Stigma Language Guide
Problematic word or phrase Preferred word or phrase
AIDS (when referring to the virus, HIV) HIV

HIV and AIDS (when referring to both)

Why: AIDS itself is not a condition. It is a range of conditions, or a syndrome, that occurs when a person’s immune system is weakened by the HIV infection.
To catch AIDS
To catch HIV
To pass on HIV
To be diagnosed with HIV
To acquire HIV
To transmit HIV
Why: AIDS cannot be caught or transmitted. People get HIV. HIV can be transmitted, but it is not hereditary.
Unprotected sex Sex without a condom or medicines to prevent or treat HIV (such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or antiretroviral therapy)
Why: “Unprotected sex” is often associated with sex without a condom. More precise terms are necessary as today there are numerous ways outside condom use to engage in safe sex to prevent HIV.
Body fluids Blood, amniotic fluid, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, breast milk
Why: Only some body fluids transmit HIV. “Body fluids” covers all fluids coming from the body and not just those involved in HIV transmission. Be specific if you can.
To battle HIV and/or AIDS
War against HIV/AIDS
Response to HIV and AIDS
Why: These terms may be considered militaristic and may lead others to think that people with HIV have to be “fought” or eliminated.
High(er) risk group(s)
Groups with high-risk behavior
High-risk behavior
Highly affected communities
Key populations
Key populations at higher risk
Why: These terms imply that membership in a particular group can result in an HIV-positive diagnosis. They may also provide a false sense of security to those who do not self-identify with one of these groups.
People/person with HIV
Why: Some people with HIV feel that these terms imply that they are powerless, with no control over their lives. Other unhelpful terms negatively define people with HIV by the condition. These terms also segregate the people who have HIV.
AIDS patient
HIV patient
Person with AIDS

Person with HIV
Person living with HIV
HIV-positive person

Why: The term “patient” implies a constant state of illness that can be misleading and demoralizing. Outside a clinical context, a person is not a patient.
AIDS or HIV carrier(s)
HIV-positive people/person
People/person with HIV
People/person with AIDS
Why: A person is not HIV or AIDS. A person lives with HIV once he or she gets the virus or progresses to having an AIDS diagnosis.
Learn about HIV stigma