HIV and AIDS Media Guide
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. 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 and 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 in other parts of the world, including here in Canada.
Adapted from the Canadian AIDS Society HIV/AIDS Media Guide at www.cdnaids.ca
Here are some examples of derogatory or inaccurate terms, together with suggestions of alternative terms and phrases:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DON'T USE: STREET WALKER
Again, the term street walker does not represent the employment aspect of sex work, and is therefore derogatory and misleading.
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.
Please check out the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations web site http://www.afao.org.au for other media related tools.
The HIV and Development Program of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has also developed useful policy and guidelines on how HIV-related language should be used to empower and inspire rather than to distance or disempower.
Their principles guiding HIV-related language can be found at:
For more information, contact ACT's Communications Coordinator at 416-340-8484 ext. 225.