The media has played a valuable role in informing the public about HIV. But at times, they have also used terms which can be misleading about the virus, or harmful to those people who are living with HIV/AIDS. The following excerpt on terminology is from the Australian HIV/AIDS Media Guide. It is intended to encourage accurate terminology and reporting that contributes to rather than takes away from the dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS, and vulnerable and marginalised communities.
Although this media guide was produced in Australia for an Australian audience, we believe that it can be useful to us here in Nigeria.
Here are some examples of derogatory or inaccurate terms, together with suggestions of alternative terms and phrases:
USE: HIV INFECTION, HIV POSITIVE, HIV/AIDS
DON’T USE: “AIDS” IF THE INTENTION IS TO REFER TO HIV
AIDS is a range of conditions which occur when a person’s immune system is seriously damaged by HIV infection. Someone who has HIV infection has antibodies to the virus but may not have developed any of the illnesses which constitute AIDS.
DON’T USE: AIDS VIRUS, HIV VIRUS
There is no such thing as the AIDS virus. There is only HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) – the virus that can cause AIDS. The term “HIV virus” actually means Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus, which is not correct.
USE: PERSON WITH HIV OR PERSON LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) OR PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS (PHAs)
DON’T USE: AIDS VICTIM OR SUFFERER
Many people living with HIV/AIDS feel these terms imply they are powerless, with no control over their lives.
DON’T USE: AIDS CARRIER
This term is highly offensive and stigmatizing to many people with HIV and AIDS. It is also incorrect: the infective agent is HIV. You can’t just catch AIDS. This term may also give the impression that people can protect themselves choosing a partner based on their appearance or by avoiding someone who they know has AIDS.
USE: PERSON WITH AIDS, OR PERSON WITH HIV INFECTION
DON’T USE: FULL BLOWN AIDS
This term implies there is such a thing as “half-blown AIDS”. A person only has AIDS when they present with an AIDS-defining illness such as an opportunistic infection.
USE: AFFECTED COMMUNITIES, HIGH RISK BEHAVIOUR (UNSAFE SEX, SHARING NEEDLES)
DON’T USE: HIGH RISK GROUP
This implies that membership of a particular group, rather than behaviour, is the significant factor in HIV commission. This term may lull people who don’t identify with a high risk group into a false sense of security. It is high risk behaviours such as unsafe sex or unsafe injecting practices that can spread HIV, not high risk groups.
USE: PEOPLE WITH MEDICALLY ACQUIRED HIV OR AIDS, CHILDREN WITH HIV OR HIV POSITIVE PEOPLE
DON’T USE: INNOCENT VICTIMS
Usually used to describe HIV positive children or people with medically acquired HIV infection (through blood transfusions etc). It wrongly implies that people infected in other ways are guilty of some wrong-doing and somehow deserving of punishment. This feeds discrimination, particularly homophobia, and should be avoided.
USE: For NIGERIA use: NIGERIAN POPULATION, HIV NEGATIVE PEOPLE, ALL NIGERIANS
DON’T USE: GENERAL POPULATION
This implies that people in the populations targeted for HIV prevention, education and care are not part of the general population. It artificially divides the world into those who are infected, or at risk of HIV infection and those who are not, and falsely implies that identity, rather than behaviour, is the critical factor in HIV transmission.
USE: BLOOD, SEMEN, PRE-EJACULATE, VAGINAL FLUIDS, BREAST MILK
DON’T USE: BODY FLUIDS
Confusion about the body fluids that can transmit HIV is a common cause of fear and misunderstanding about HIV and continues to cause discrimination against PHAs. Always explain which body fluids contain HIV in sufficient concentration to be implicated in HIV transmission (i.e. blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluids and breast milk). HIV cannot be transmitted through body fluids such as saliva, sweat, tears or urine.
USE: PERSON LIVING WITH HIV OR AIDS, HIV POSITIVE PERSON
DON’T USE: AIDS PATIENT
Use “AIDS patient” only to describe someone who has AIDS and who is, in the context of the story, in a medical setting. Most of the time, a PHA is not in the role of a patient.
USE: SEX WORKER
DON’T USE: PROSTITUTE
Prostitute is considered a disparaging term and does not reflect the fact that sex work is a form of employment for a sex worker, not a way of life.
USE: PERSON WHO INJECTS DRUGS, PEOPLE WHO INJECT DRUGS, INJECTION DRUG USER
DON’T USE: JUNKIE, DRUG ADDICT
Illicit drug use is only one part of an injection drug user’s life. Terms such as junkie rely on a stereotyped image which is not accurate.