Can You Tell By Looking At Someone If They Have HIV/AIDS?
Thank you for your contribution to HIV disclosure to sex partners.
When recently asked “Can you tell by looking at someone if they have HIV/AIDS, our immediate response was NO. We were referring to the average person on the street or someone you want to have sex with who could be newly diagnosed, undiagnosed or someone who is fortunate enough to be on the new regimen of medication which does not have serious physical side effects.
After promptly responding – NO – a girl in the group responded with YES, you can tell if someone has HIV/AIDS. She went on to describe lipodystrophy side effects including skinny arms, butt, legs, a protruding belly and concave cheeks. She explained her familiarity with this look from experience in working with people living with HIV, many of them long term survivors.
So, what do we do with this information as described by the well informed girl.? On HIV dating sites people use it to screen potential partners by mentioning in their profile how they are in excellent health, with an undetectable viral load, good physical shape, no signs of HIV/AIDS, while posting pictures of themselves in various states of undress to reinforce the message that they do not have the “HIV/AIDS look”.
Is this a form of discrimination within the community of people living with HIV that feeds the harsher discrimination and stigma of the general population? Does this give people permission and encouragement to state “ He/she looks like they have HIV/AIDS”? Are we now stigmatizing the long term survivors who courageously offered themselves as guinea pigs on drug trials in the early days of the epidemic in the search for medication to treat the virus? Have they become a marginalized group within an already marginalized group? Should we not be showing more gratitude for the willingness to ingest experimental medications so that the next generation of people living with HIV could have access to treatment which includes the luxury of one pill a day?
Yes, sometimes you can tell by looking at someone whether or not they have HIV/AIDS, but it came at a cost and sacrifice that should not be met with stigma and discrimination by anyone, regardless of their HIV status. We should think twice when we say “That person looks like they have HIV/AIDS”.