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Tackling HIV stigma by fostering compassion and empathy


HIV/AIDS interventions


Stigma against people living with HIV (PLHIV) is a global issue that leads to widespread discrimination. Myths and negative attitudes lead to social rejection of PLHIV, who commonly face barriers such as denial of health care, housing, and education. In order to address discriminatory practices, interventions must first address the root cause of underlying attitudes. Fostering equitable access to resources requires innovative methods that convey compassion for PLHIV while dispelling myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.


For the past 20 years, HDI has developed projects that tackle attitudes and stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS while expanding access to testing, treatment, and reliable information. In target locations including South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, these projects incorporate culturally recognizable symbols and motifs to communicate the importance of empathy and acceptance for PLHIV.

Ethiopia: HDI developed two concurrent programs that promoted testing and positive attitudes toward PLHIV:

  • Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT): VCT provided counseling to educate clients on prevention and treatment services. VCT also focused on developing coping strategies and social support for seropositive clients. Multimedia advertisements used recognizable images, such as warriors, to associate testing with strength and wisdom.

  • Compassion, Tolerance, and Sensitivity Campaign (CATS): This campaign used popular media, including songs an celebrities, to demonstrate positive attitudes toward PLHIV to reduce prejudice and fight discrimination.

Bangladesh: Using a three-pronged communication and marketing strategy, HDI:

  • Promoted consistent condom use targeting clients of sex workers (migrant laborers, truck/rickshaw drivers), stating that condoms enable worry-free pleasure, protect families, and preserve health and virility.

  • Supported behavior change by ensuring that condoms were readily available with retailers in high-risk areas.

  • Created a mass media campaign that featured a relatable and recognizable character who embodied aspirational traits of the target audience (machismo, excitement, romance), while promoting condom use as a means of attaining these goals.


Both of these campaigns were met with widespread acceptance from the target audience. These projects helped normalize discussions of HIV/AIDS, which led to increased uptake of testing and preventative services.citizen discussion, and increased government accountability led to this mutually beneficial result.

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