Language Sensitization


The effects of discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS and those otherwise affected by the disease are devastating not only for the individuals themselves, but also for the community and, in particular, for efforts to prevent the spread of HIV. Learn the correct terms of usage here:
Sensitive Language Why Alternatives
AIDS/HIV Carrier This is a stigmatizing term, which focuses on an individual as a carrier of disease. It is more important to emphasize that HIV/AIDS is a disease that can be managed and lived with, rather than focusing on the diseased status of the individual. HIV-positive, Person/man/woman living with HIV
AIDS Orphan
This term stigmatizes the child and the child’s condition and may be misinterpreted to mean that the child is HIV-positive. The child may not be HIV positive but may have one or both parents due to HIV. Orphans/Children affected by HIV/AIDS
AIDS Sufferers / Victims These words evoke images of helplessness and weakness. HIV (antibody) test
AIDS Virus
The correct name of the virus is HIV. AIDS is a syndrome that is caused by HIV HIV, The virus that causes AIDS
Body Fluids This phrase is too broad and can refer to a range of body fluids, not all of which can transmit HIV. Specify the fluids.
“Catch AIDS” HIV is transmitted (ex. Sexually, mother-to-child, via blood), and then leads to the development of AIDS. Unlike contagious diseases, HIV cannot be “caught” Clarification – HIV is not a contagious disease, i.e. it cannot be transmitted through casual contact (ex. Sneezing, coughing, saliva). Contract HIV Become  HIV-positive
“Died of AIDS”
While this is frequently used, AIDS is actually a syndrome that can be defined by many different diseases. HIV gradually weakens a person’s immune system and leads to one or more of many illnesses (opportunistic infections), which signal the progression to AIDS. These illnesses are the eventual cause of death. “Died of an AIDS-related illness” “Died of a HIV-related illness”.
Drugs for AIDS
This may be misinterpreted as meaning that there are cures for HIV/AIDS. It is important to clarify that while there are drugs to treat the symptoms, prevent and treat opportunistic infections and slow the progression of the disease, they cannot completely rid the body of the virus. Anti-HIV therapy, AIDS-related drugs, Drugs to prevent and treat opportunistic infections (OI)
Full-blown AIDS This is an older slang term that is rarely used anymore. Progression to AIDS is one stage of HIV disease. AIDS
Gay / Homosexual / Bisexual These terms, particularly gay bisexual, refer to an identity that may or may not be tied to a behavior. In many countries and cultures, men who have sex with other men may not perceive themselves as homosexual. It is important to distinguish between behavior (which can place an individual at increased risk of transmitting and acquiring HIV) and sexual identity, particularly when talking about HIV transmission. Men who have sex with men (MSM)
HIV and AIDS, HIV or AIDS They are not two diseases. Rather, they are different stages of HIV disease. HIV/AIDS
HIV/-Infected Person “HI-positive” is preferable to “HIV-infected,” as the letter term places emphasis on the infection, rather than the individual living with it. Living with HIV, HIV-positive, (Having) contacted HIV
HIV Virus This term is redundant. HIV stands for “Human Immune Deficiency Virus” HIV
Innocent (victim), Guilty This infers that certain modes of transmission are worse than others and that some HIV-positive individuals deserve their status. Omit the word
Promiscuous This term is a label based on perceptions of an individual’s behavior. It places a negative connotation on individuals who may look a certain way, have or be perceived to have more than one sexual partner and does not accurately reflect the social context of transmission. For example, individuals may be in polygamous marriages, which are socially and religiously  acceptable in many societies. It is important not to use language that judges other’ behaviors or is based on misconceptions or stereotypes. This is a value judgement that should be avoided
Prostitute This term has a negative connotation. It does not accurately describe situations in which women may be forced into exchanging sex for money or food due to gender inequality and lack of alternative economic opportunities. Sex worker
Risk group vs. Risk Behavior The phrase “risk group” may be interpreted as referring to the only people who are at-risk of contracting HIV. Individuals who do not belong to these groups may gain a false sense of security group” may not practice risky behavior. An example of this is an injection drug user who uses clean needles that are not shared Risky behavior
Safe Sex There is always an inherent risk when having sex with a partner Safer sex
Scourge, Plague, Dreaded Disease. These words are overly dramatic and over used. They also may imply judgement and should be substituted with medical terms. Disease, Epidemic, Illness
Sufferer, Victim These terms imply passiveness and helplessness. Avoid using these terms
Suspected (of having HIV), admitted (to having HIV) These terms foster stigma because they imply secrecy. Avoid using these terms


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      2. Foreman M. “An ethical guide to reporting HIV/AIDS.” In Boafo, STK, Arnold, CA (eds.) Media & HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa: A resource book. UNESCO 2000, aids/index.html
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      6. UNDP, (1992) HIV-Related Language Policy,