Stigma remains attached to HIV/AIDS

Mar 19, 2015

Experts say social workers can help educate public

There are people who still aren’t quite sure how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, and are afraid of what it means, says NASW member Melissa Sellevaag, manager for Youth and Family Care Navigation at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C.

She says social workers can help prevent stigma, and spread education about the disease and how to prevent it. It’s important to know at least the basics about the virus, she adds, because whatever field of practice we choose, social workers will work with clients with HIV/AIDS.

“HIV doesn’t discriminate against anybody,” says Sellevaag, who helps HIV-positive clients and their families get treatment and support. “All social workers should know the basics: how you get it, what it is and how you prevent it.”

Karen Phillips, also an NASW member, says there is a lot of stigma associated with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. At its onset in the 1980s, the virus was first identified in the U.S. among gay men in New York and California. She says some may still thinks it’s a “gay person’s” disease, even though it’s not.

Phillips is the director of social work services at Health Services Center in Hobson City, Ala. The center receives funding from Ryan White, a federally funded program that allocates money to health resource services across the U.S. Ryan White funding is designated to help those with HIV.

“The stigma is still so huge, and there are a lot of old-school mind-sets that carry a really strong judgment towards someone with HIV,” Phillips says. “There is a stigma that HIV goes hand in hand with being gay, or a drug user, or a prostitute. But that’s not always so. I’ve seen married couples infected (one or both of them), and everyone who has a child has had unprotected sex.”

From the March 2015 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.