(DO’S & DON’T’S)


Using incorrect terminology when talking about HIV and AIDS can be insensitive and harmful to someone with the virus. Even if you are in a group of friends’ company where you assume everyone is HIV-negative, remember that someone in the conversation may be HIV-positive and may not have disclosed their status.


I remember a newly HIV-diagnosed client who approached me for post-counselling, telling me about their neighbour that came for a braai (barbecue) every weekend. The host was diagnosed HIV positive through assisting a person in distress by engaging in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. This neighbour would regularly rant and show disgust towards people living with HIV. This person’s insensitivity was distressing to the HIV+ host and ensured sadly, that he has not, to my knowledge, ever disclosed his status. This kind of behaviour can be detrimental to the mental and physical health of an HIV person. Be aware of the language you use when talking about HIV around anyone, as you do not know who is HIV positive and possibly struggling with their diagnosis.


If a friend or relative does tell you that they are HIV positive, allow them to talk, listen to them and be understanding of their situation.


Do not say things such as:

  • How did you get it?
  • Who gave it to you?
  • How long have you had it?
  • Why am I not surprised?


Rather ask/say:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Have you started treatment yet?
  • How can I support you?
  • Have you found a good doctor?
  • I am here for you.


Consider rephrasing your terminology when talking about HIV using the examples below to avoid promoting discrimination and misinformation around HIV.


  • Instead of using AIDS (when referring to the virus, HIV) – use HIV or HIV and AIDS (when referring to both).
  • Don’t say, ‘to catch AIDS’, ‘to catch HIV’, ‘to pass on HIV’ – Do say, ‘to be diagnosed with HIV’, ‘to acquire HIV’, ‘to transmit HIV’.
  • Don’t use the phrase ‘body fluids. – Do use, Blood, amniotic fluid, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk.
  • Don’t use words like Victims, Sufferers, Contaminated, or Sick, rather say, People/person with HIV.
  • Unacceptable phrase: AIDS patient, HIV patient, Patient. Preferred term: Person with AIDS, Person with HIV, Person living with HIV, HIV positive persons.
  • A BIG no-no: Positives, HIVers, AIDS or HIV carrier(s). Acceptable terms: HIV-positive people/person, People/person with HIV, People/ person with AIDS

Be direct, non-judgmental, and supportive.

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