New best practice guide to the language of HIV


  • Jo Whelan
  • Medical News
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A new Best Practice guide to the language of HIV has been published by the National HIV Nurses Association (NHIVNA). The guide discusses the principles of non-stigmatising, audience-friendly communication and lists stigmatising terms and their alternatives. Key principles are:

  • Prefer positive words, e.g. ‘promoting health’ rather than ‘ending disease’
  • Use person-first language that recognises people living with HIV as fellow human beings, e.g. do not refer to people with acronyms such as ‘PLWH’ (people living with HIV)
  • Avoid the language of war: language such as ‘eliminating’, ‘fighting’ and ‘battle’ is deemed not to be helpful; the simple term ‘ending’ is preferred
  • Keep language kind and simple, and use empathy

The term ‘serodiscordant’ is felt to be ‘harsh and jarring because of lack of harmony’ and to over-medicalise what is a human relationship; this fuels stigma and discrimination, the guidance says. ‘Sero-different’ is preferred. The word ‘infection’ should be avoided in favour of acquisition or transmission of HIV. ‘Vertical transmission’ is preferred to ‘mother-to-child transmission’ as it is less accusatory. ‘Telling’ or ‘sharing’ HIV status is preferred to ‘disclosure’ of status, because ‘disclosure’ can reinforce stigma or the feeling that the person has done something wrong.

“Over the past 30 years, people living with HIV have helped shape the language we use and their work has changed the way we discuss death, dying, sex and sexuality; ensuring that new discourse in the HIV field does not stigmatise, but rather catalyses empowerment,” the authors note.  

The guide is free to access online.