An activist sets up a red ribbon during the commemoration of the World AIDS Day in San Salvador, on December 1, 2010. AFP PHOTO/ Jose CABEZAS

Stigma and discrimination are two factors that continue to drive the HIV/AIDS epidemic forward. Employees face discrimination at work, women and men are afraid to get tested and run the risk of being ostracized by family and friends, and children are turned away from schools.

Stigma and discrimination based on HIV status are wrong, and the U.S. government does not condone stigmatization or discrimination of HIV-positive persons. USAID takes stigma and discrimination seriously, and we work with our partner countries to make sure the effect of this type of thinking is understood.

Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. is proud to be making a historic commitment to combat HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR is driven by a partnership between the U.S. government and the nations where it works, along with other donors, multilateral organizations, nonprofit groups, faith-based organizations, and people living with HIV, to make smart investments to save lives.

With support from USAID, U.S. government country programs have been addressing stigma since the beginning of the epidemic and with increased intensity with the advent of PEPFAR in 2003. Reducing stigma and discrimination is a prominent goal of PEPFAR’s current Partnership Framework agreements. Through this mechanism, the U.S. government actively works in partnership with countries to end stigma and discrimination.

Centrally, the U.S. government funds activities that reduce stigma and discrimination, such as providing the tools necessary for networks of HIV-positive individuals to engage in evidence-based advocacy. USAID’s recently completed Health Policy Initiative (HPI) worked with partners to develop indicators to measure various aspects of stigma and discrimination. By participating in expert working groups, the program built consensus for common action and took the lead on a Health Facility and Provider Stigma Measurement Tool. HPI also increased private sector engagement and encouraged religious leaders to speak out against stigma and discrimination.

Now, through the Health Policy Project (HPP), USAID continues work globally to strengthen policy and advocacy support for the reduction of stigma and discrimination, especially as it relates to HIV prevention, care and treatment services.

All of us who work on global AIDS issues are aware of the negative impacts of stigma and discrimination, and are committed to creating equal access to quality care and services for those living with HIV worldwide.