HIV stigma causing even more harm as people avoid testing

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Breakthroughs in medicine have drastically increased the HIV and AIDS survival rate in the United States, but there's one thing that's preventing them from saving even more lives.

That thing is the fear of asking for help in the first place.

The negative attitude toward HIV prevents people from getting tested and seeking care in many cases, and that topic was discussed Friday among experts at Howard University.

"Washington, D.C. is ground zero for the HIV epidemic, and unlike cancer or diabetes, there's still that stigma around HIV," Rodney McCoy, a prevention educator, said.

McCoy says that while enormous strides have been made to fight the disease, we still have a long way to go.

He understands the plight of those who carry that fear; McCoy himself tested positive for the virus 12 years ago.

"There's still a sense of, 'I don't want to know. I'm afraid to get tested,'" he said.

The overwhelming sense at the discussion was that HIV itself is no longer a death sentence, thanks to modern medicine, but that the stigma is causing even more harm.

That's a stigma that doctors like Sohail Rana, the director of the pediatric HIV program at Howard University Hospital, is trying to break.

"Most of the public has views of HIV (as if) the person deserved it in some way," Rana said.