Christine: the stigma of cultural prejudice against HIV

Christine Client Story

Many people living with HIV still have complicated medical needs, which Casey House doctors and nurses use their knowledge and experience to address. And, many people living with HIV still face stifling stigma and marginalization, particularly from certain cultural communities.

Christine* was HIV negative and a virgin when she married. She was married for two years and contracted HIV from her estranged husband while they were together.

Because there is a strong prejudice against HIV in her culture Christine has had an extremely difficult time coming to terms with her diagnosis. She was abandoned by the few family members and friends to whom she disclosed her HIV status. “I don’t accept myself, how can I expect them to accept me?” she says.

Panicked by her diagnosis, she has tried to commit suicide multiple times. Without a support system Christine is isolated, alone, and overwhelmed with fear that she will be labelled, judged and rejected for being HIV+.

Educated and resourceful, she accesses as much health care as possible, but is unable to allow herself to connect with the emotional and psycho-social supports she needs.

One resource she does access is Casey House’s massage therapy program. Once a month she sees Shona, Casey House’s massage therapist. Christine benefits from both the physical and emotional release. “I know you’re not supposed to talk, but Shona is a very good listener,” says Christine. There are often tears while she’s on the massage table, but she values each appointment, “I can share, I can have somebody to talk to. I can enjoy physical and emotional help at the same time”. Shona points out that there are many other services at Casey House Christine could access, but she is unwilling. The stigma, the thought of being identified as HIV+ is too much for her to bear.

Despite not being able to accept more support, Christine is being helped by Casey House; she has a strong connection with Shona, who for one day a month makes Christine feel safe, and cared for.

HIV is only part of the story.

*Christine is a pseudonym

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