In a 2012 EKOS survey*almost 70% of Canadians believed that people would be unwilling to tell others they have HIV because of the stigma associated with it. Despite a growing number of people saying they feel comfortable working in an office with someone living with HIV, 40% of Canadians polled said they would feel uncomfortable using a restaurant drinking glass once used by a person living with HIV.

Roughly one in eight people living with HIV globally is being denied health services because of stigma and discrimination**

In the early 1980’s, as the HIV epidemic was emerging, very little was known about how HIV is transmitted and this generated a great deal of fear and uncertainty. Unfortunately, much of this fear still persists today. The truth is that HIV has never been transmitted through casual contact and, with modern advances in treatment, those who stay on treatment that works, cannot transmit HIV through sexual contact either.

Myths and misinformation increase the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS and lead to increased isolation, depression and anxiety

In our work at The Teresa Group, we support children who were born with HIV and those who live within a family where one or both parents are HIV+. Here are a few clear examples about how isolating and debilitating the effects of HIV-stigma can be.

Eleven year old Prudence’s Mom told us that her daughter is reluctant to participate in sleepovers with classmates or go on school trips because she doesn’t want to deal with questions about her medications. Even at her young age, Prudence chooses to isolate herself from important social events because she fears being labelled and stigmatized.

Samuel is seven years old and because his Mom who lives with HIV is on effective treatment, Samuel was born HIV-free. However, his Mom is afraid to enroll him in swimming lessons in case someone finds out about her HIV status. She fears that due to ignorance about the facts of HIV transmission, the swim instructors or other parents won’t want other kids sharing the pool with her son.

Adopting a human rights approach to HIV and AIDS is in the best interests of public health and is key to eradicating stigma and discrimination. Stigma blocks access to HIV testing and treatment services, making onward transmission more likely. The removal of barriers to these services is key to ending the global HIV epidemic.**

With the mission to advance the dignity and well-being of children and families affected by HIV, The Teresa Group offers a safe space where there is no place for stigma and where children and families can flourish and grow.

In the lead up to the holidays, The Teresa Group offers several programs including a much-anticipated Winter Party for families, $50 grocery cards for that special meal and a Holiday Gift Bag packed with wrapped toys and goodies for the whole family.

Visit our website to learn about how you can participate in these programs and help kids and families affected by HIV grow and flourish.

This holiday season, learn the facts, reach out and support kids and families

* http://www.catie.ca/en/hiv-canada/4/4-1/4-1-1

** https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/stigma-discrimination

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