How Does the Media Talk About HIV?

How Does the Media Talk About HIV?

It’s been almost 40 years since HIV made its first appearance in the media. At that time, it was a report on what was thought to be a type of cancer that was affecting homosexual men in the cities of San Francisco and New York, in the United States. There was no indication that its cause was a virus and even less that it would turn into the great pandemic at the end of the 20th Century. 

During these four decades, the media has portrayed HIV, not only regarding its medical and scientific implications, but above all, its social implications. This is why, at the beginning of last march, the Argentinian Government, through the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI in Spanish), published a report on how the country’s media approaches HIV. 

Results from INADI

Their aim was to analyze how the media treats information regarding HIV/AIDS, in order to find out just up to what point can media discourse stigmatize these topics. The final objective was to provide a series of recommendations for the media, specifically, so that journalism professionals could have a best practice guide. 

Among the recommendations from the INADI in order to avoid feeding the stigma towards people with HIV we can point out:

  • HIV is not the same as AIDS: Even though 37 years have passed since aids was discovered to be a disease and HIV its causing virus, a lot of the media continue using both terms indistinctively, thus confusing a chronic condition (infection by HIV) with a serious illness (AIDS).
  • HIV is transmitted, it is not contagious: Although some dictionaries treat these words as synonyms, there is an essential difference in medical terms. It is said that a virus is contagious when it can survive outside the human body for prolonged periods of time (like the novel coronavirus). Transmission, instead, implies that an infectious agent (such as HIV) cannot survive outside of the body for more than just a few minutes. 
  • People live with HIV, they are not “carriers”: This last phrase is considered stigmatizing, since it culturally alludes to a burden that a person carries and that they could deposit onto others. 
  • Talk about the issue beyond December 1st: World AIDS day is an opportunity to approach the topic, however, this needs to be talked about all year round, since it is still a great public health challenge. 
  • Break the association between HIV and death: Early diagnosis and timely treatment have greatly improved the prognosis of someone diagnosed with HIV, currently having the same lifespan in years than a person who does not have the virus. 

The report is available online here. For more information on services related to HIV, visit our AHF website in Argentina.