Facing Stigma

I am an HIV positive woman.  In 2011 I was referred to a surgeon to have a hysterectomy. Upon meeting the surgeon, she just kept pushing me to have a different procedure than what had been recommended to me by my gynecologist. I told her I intended to adhere to my gynecologist’s recommendations.  Finally, the surgeon told me why she preferred the alternate procedure- it because she was worried she would get a needle stick and become infected with HIV!

The surgeon said that she was trying to get pregnant and did not want to contract HIV. She said she would have to find another doctor who would do the surgery with her, so she would not be at risk. Remember, this is just 2 years ago! I thought to myself, ‘doesn’t she know about universal precautions? How not to get infected?’ I could not believe that in this day and age a doctor would say something like that to a patient. It felt like a resurfacing of the stigma I experienced 30 years ago, when I was first diagnosed. Back then, I could understand that sort of stigma, but today, when we’ve come so far and so much is known about HIV. HELLO! There is no reason this should still be going on. It is unacceptable.

Stigma in the clinical setting is a big deal. A lot of us feel forced to sweep it under the rug, make excuses for it or ignore it; but this has to stop. We have to draw the line. We need to educate all health care providers about HIV/AIDS. If they are scared to do a procedure on us, what is that telling us? The education needs to begin now!

*This post was adapted from a message originally published in the “LTAI Calendar of Recommendations for Providers Serving the Positive Community.”


2 thoughts on “Facing Stigma

  1. We have to fight everyday to stay healthy and to stay alive. It’s sad when we also have to fight the medical communities ignorance and their own stigma against us, their patients. I would report any Dr. To the AMA if I was faced with such ignorance and prejudice .

  2. It is illegal for a doctor to refuse to treat you, or to refer you to another surgeon, because he or she is afraid of HIV infection. The writer and first commenter are absolutely right — this is wrong, there are universal precautions, and a doctor who behaves unethically and illegally should be reported to state licensing authorities, and sued. You can contact any of the great legal organizations that might take your case for free if this happens: you can check out our listings of organizations at http://www.hivlawandpolicy.org to find the HIV legal organization nearest you. It is, as you say, completely unacceptable for a person living with HIV to have to confront this type of ignorance anywhere, especially in the health care setting, where we expect trained medical professionals to know better.

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