Recognizing and Overcoming HIV Stigma of Healthcare Providers

Author: Kent Marburger, Pharmacy Intern; Paige Blatchford, Clinical Pharmacist HIV Stigma

There are nearly 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S.  While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports an overall decline in HIV infections and diagnoses, there are still nearly 39,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Certain populations are more at risk for contracting HIV. In order to continue making progress in the fight to end HIV/AIDS, it’s important to recognize and overcome the HIV stigma and negative perceptions surrounding this condition. Everyone can take action to end HIV stigma. It’s especially important for healthcare providers to be aware of this potential bias because it can affect a person’s access to treatment and overall quality of patient care.

HIV and AIDs Progression

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks an infected person’s immune system, weakening his or her ability to fight infections and other illnesses. Medications can be used to treat HIV and keep people healthy, but there is no cure for this disease. If the disease progresses and the patient’s immune system becomes severely damaged, he or she may be diagnosed with AIDS. AIDS is the last stage of an HIV infection. provides more information about each of the three stages of an HIV infection.

HIV Stigma around the World

HIV stigma is a global issue. UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) cite fear of discrimination as the main reason why people avoid getting tested and getting HIV treatment. The People Living with HIV Stigma Index is an online resource that helps people understand how HIV stigma affects the global population. Addressing bias and discrimination against people with HIV can help improve access to treatment and overall quality of life.

Addressing HIV Stigma in Healthcare

A recent study identified a need to address stigma among healthcare providers. It’s important for providers to recognize their potential bias and take steps to move beyond the HIV stigma. When people with HIV are unaware of their condition or they don’t get the treatment they need, it can lead to more health complications. The CDC encourages people to get tested for HIV and provides an online resource to connect people with free, confidential HIV testing.

Ongoing education, including training about HIV stigmas, is an important way to avoid bias among healthcare providers. The study revealed that providers without recent training on HIV stigmas are more likely to display biased behavior toward patients. Ongoing education efforts help overcome potential bias, which can be an unconscious influence on a healthcare provider that reduces the quality of care an HIV patient receives.

The Impact of HIV Stigma on Patient Care

Whether they realize it or not, doctors who approach HIV patients with their personal bias may not provide the necessary level education and care. If patients are afraid of negative HIV stigmas, they may not be honest about their relationships, their history of drug use or other behaviors that increase a person’s risk of contracting HIV. This information can be critical when developing an HIV treatment plan. In addition to bias in the healthcare industry, people diagnosed with HIV may face bias in other areas.

One way to address unconscious or hidden bias is through a simple online test. Psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington developed an Implicit Association Test (IAT), which can give healthcare providers better insight to potential unconscious biases.

HIV Treatment

Access to HIV treatment is important because you can achieve viral suppression of HIV virus. Antiretroviral drugs are used to treat HIV in its different stages. These medicines help keep those infected healthy and suppress the virus. Treatment can also effectively lower the risk of HIV transmission. For more information about HIV suppression, visit the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Importance of Medication Adherence in HIV Treatment

Medication adherence is critical for people living with HIV. Staying medication adherent means following prescription guidelines and taking the right dose at the right time. The medications used to treat HIV prevent the virus from damaging the immune system. If a patient doesn’t take his or her medications as prescribed, there is a greater risk of treatment failure.

Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS) understands the importance of medication adherence for HIV patients. With this in mind, HPS facilitates coordinated care between healthcare providers and patients. Every HIV patient who works with HPS receives the same high level of personalized care and clinical expertise. No matter what the diagnosis is, HPS remains committed to our goal of making your life easier, healthier and happier.