Three decades after the emergence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as a manageable disease with proper medication, individuals living with HIV in our country continue to grapple with stigma and discrimination.

A recent study has shed light on HIV/AIDS as one of the most stigmatized medical conditions, posing a significant public health challenge in our society. Such stigma not only presents obstacles to the well-being of people living with HIV (PLHIV) but also hampers efforts to curb the HIV epidemic globally.

Education emerges as a significant factor, with those possessing some level of education reporting a higher quality of life compared to those without formal education, according to the study. Moreover, individuals in stable marital relationships with strong family support exhibit better overall well-being, contrasting with those facing lower incomes and weaker social support structures.

Since 1993, Bhutan reported a total of 874 HIV cases, with approximately 70 percent occurring among economically productive age groups. Despite extensive awareness campaigns, unprotected sex remains the primary mode of transmission, contributing to a steady rise in HIV/AIDS cases over the years.

Fighting HIV/AIDS remains a formidable challenge, with frontline advocates acknowledging improvements in awareness but also highlighting persistent problems. Cultural and religious factors continue to fuel stigma, perpetuating fear and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. We must educate the public, beginning within families, to dispel myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS. Rather than viewing HIV/AIDS as a deadly disease, it is crucial to understand it as a manageable condition akin to other illnesses like diabetes.

The consequences of ongoing stigma and discrimination are profound, directly impacting the detection of new cases and hindering efforts to combat the epidemic. According to those working with people with HIV/AIDS, social stigma remains a primary reason why individuals with HIV/AIDS avoid testing and conceal their status.

Traditional advocacy methods, such as posters and stickers, are inadequate in addressing the complex issues of stigma and discrimination. There is a pressing need to intensify advocacy efforts, leveraging new platforms like social media, while also advocating for workplace policies and anti-discriminatory legislation.

We need to collectively challenge stigma and discrimination, fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and support for individuals living with the virus. Only through concerted efforts can we create a more inclusive and compassionate society where all individuals, regardless of their HIV status, are treated with dignity and respect.