"HIV/AIDS: Health and Discrimination" by Donaldson Conserve, Ph.D.

Conserve is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His dissertation is titled, "Mwen di li m’fe maladi SIDA: An Exploration of the HIV Serostatus Disclosure Experiment of Haitians Living with HIV in Haiti and the United States" (2013).

Among the structural factors that have affected Haitians living in the United States, health-related stigma, particularly HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination has been the most blatant as a result of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s label of Haitians as an HIV/AIDS risk group in the advent of the HIV epidemic. McCormick (1993) states that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified Haitians as a group at risk of contracting and transmitting HIV in 1982 not because of a specific behavior they engaged in like the other groups but because of their national origin. The erroneous link between Haitians and HIV/AIDS caused American institutions to discriminate against Haitians. For example, the Food and Drug Administration banned Haitians from donating blood due to the label assigned to Haitians as a high risk group for HIV.

Although the Haitian American community protested against this ban by organizing a march of 50,000 Haitians across the Brooklyn Bridge on April 20th, 1990 and eventually succeeded in having the CDC and FDA remove them for the high risk group, Haitians regardless of their HIV status continue to face health-related stigma in the United States. The negative effects of health-related stigma have been reported to be status loss, discrimination, internalization, and failure to advantage of social economic, and healthcare opportunities (Deacon, 2006). These effects parallel the finding of a study in Chicago that used Goffman’s theory of stigma to explore Haitian American women’s perceptions of the stigma that resulted after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Haitians as an AIDS risk group in the advent of the HIV epidemic (Santana & Dancy, 2000). More recently in 2010, a New York based DJ announced that the reason he is HIV-negative is because he does not engage in sexual intercourse with Haitian women. The Haitian community gathered in New York once again to protest against the DJ and radio station and requested that the radio station uses this opportunity to properly education the community about HIV/AIDS.

The discriminatory impact of the label of Haitians as a high risk group for HIV/AIDS will persist unless more efforts are made nationally to disassociate Haitians with HIV.