As we approach the 35th anniversary of the first case reports of what would later come to be known as HIV/AIDS, we can rightfully celebrate that we now have an array of effective tools to prevent new infections, diagnose them, and care for people living with HIV. Yet the great effectiveness of these tools is too often blunted due to persistent HIV-related stigma and discrimination. We know from studies as well as countless personal stories that HIV-related stigma inhibits far too many people from accessing HIV prevention, testing, and care, even today. Clearly, in order to end the epidemic, we must combat stigma and discrimination. With that in mind, earlier this month, as part of ongoing work to advance the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the White House and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a meeting specifically focused on what the research tells us about HIV-related stigma and what more we need to know about it.
NIH-supported research has contributed to many tools to measure stigma and development of interventions to prevent it. The March 3 meeting, subtitled “Translating Research to Action: Reducing HIV Stigma to Optimize HIV Outcomes,” was jointly convened by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), the NIH Office of AIDS Research, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The gathering brought together researchers and other stakeholders from across the U.S. and around the world including representatives from Federal agencies, leading academic institutions, the legal community, advocates, and ministers for a rich conversation about this complex and multifaceted issue. Participants discussed best practices for measuring and monitoring HIV stigma, as well as methods of intervention focused on reducing or overcoming stigma in order to improve HIV outcomes as well as gaps in our understanding of stigma that need to be examined further.
Among the key points discussed in presentations, panel discussions, and dialogue were the following:
The meeting galvanized the participating researchers and other stakeholders and will hopefully lead to new insights, collaborative efforts, and utilization of evidence-based measures and interventions The information shared during the meeting will also aid the ongoing efforts of NIMH, which views stigma as a significant component of all the new NIH AIDS research funding priorities and will continue to place a high priority on stigma research in the years ahead. The information will also be utilized by ONAP as we continue work with Federal partners and other stakeholders to develop an NHAS indicator to measure stigma. We hope that these collective efforts along with those by other stakeholders will accelerate the reduction of HIV-related stigma and improve outcomes for people living with HIV.
Amy Lansky, PhD, MPH is the Acting Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.