According to expert Kirsten Eid, the key to fighting HIV in the community is to create an open dialogue for people living with HIV.
For the approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States today, advanced treatments have changed the conversation. But the stubborn stigma remains a serious obstacle to healthy outcomes — and the global pandemic isn’t helping.
“Both our substance abuse treatment and our mental health counseling are in very high demand right now,” says Kirsten Eid, LMSW, director of HIV services at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. Eid reports a 40 percent increase in requests for mental health counseling services since the Center closed due to the pandemic.
Eid sees firsthand how the stigma surrounding HIV affects people’s health. She believes the key is encouraging an open dialogue.
“By reducing the stigma, more people can be educated about the risks of HIV and know how to keep themselves as safe as possible,” she notes.
The key is to normalize the subject of HIV. “Words are definitely important,” Eid says. “The stigma can cause people to avoid seeking medical treatment or to avoid disclosing information to their partners. That leads to poor health outcomes. When talking about HIV, don’t use language like ‘HIV-infected person.’ It’s dehumanizing. You don’t hear people saying things like ‘cancerous person,’ and it’s no different for HIV.”
Eid believes in the power of communication. Though there is a lot of information available through the CDC’s website or the AIDS Institute, Eid also recommends in-person experiences like local art community events focused on HIV work. “You can learn a lot from artists, and from people whose lives have been directly impacted by HIV and the HIV stigma,” she says. “Firsthand experiences put it all in perspective.”