World AIDS Day: It Is Time to Stop 'Aidsism'

We must put an end to the discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS experience every day.
For two months, ostracized and alone, nineteen year-old Marvelyn Brown slept on the gray vinyl seats of her 1996 Nissan Sentra in the parking lot of a Nashville, Tennessee, Walmart. When she visited her family, she used paper plates and plastic forks to eat so she wouldn't share dishes; all surfaces that she touched were wiped down with bleach. Her newly pregnant friend told her that she did not want Marvelyn around her child. In a matter of a few weeks, Marvelyn had lost the support of her friends and family -- all because she had been diagnosed as HIV positive.

But Marvelyn's story is neither new nor unique. Her friends and relatives were suddenly confronting the realities of a potentially life-threatening infectious disease, and they responded to their lack of understanding about HIV/AIDS as many people do -- with fear and mistrust.

Today is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, and its message, "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise," calls on global leaders to deliver on the promise of universal access to prevention, treatment, and care. Yet, despite two decades of progress in the fight against this disease, there is still widespread stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the United States and across the world -- fueled by myths, a lack of knowledge about how the disease is transmitted, and value judgments about how it is acquired. Though many people are familiar with the concepts of ageism and racism, there is another pervasive, pernicious form of discrimination that deeply affects many people's lives and must also be given a name -- "aidsism."

Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, M.D. (ret.) is the Senior Policy and Medical Advisor at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research and a Clinical Professor at Georgetown and Tufts University Schools of Medicine. She served for more than 20 years in health leadership positions in the Federal government, including as Assistant Surgeon General of the United States, the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of Women's Health, as a White House Advisor on Health, and as Chief of the Behavioral Medicine and Basic Prevention Research Branch at the National Institutes of Health. Throughout her career, she has worked to eradicate HIV/AIDS. Dr. Blumenthal has received numerous awards including honorary doctorates and has been decorated with the highest medals of the US Public Health Service for her pioneering leadership and significant contributions to advancing health in the United States and worldwide. Melissa Shive, a Fulbright Scholar and honors graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, is a medical student at the University of California, San Francisco and served as a Research and Policy Assistant at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research in Washington D.C. Marvelyn Brown is a 24 year-old native Tennessean who is now an avid AIDS activist and author of a new autobiography entitled The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive. For more information about HIV/AIDS, visit
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