HIV/AIDS: The Public Perceptions

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 3
Words: 869
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College


Various diseases affecting the human body are common in society, and the perception of each disease is different. For instance, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) have been negatively thought of for many years. Since the registered outbreak of AIDS in 1981, the infection has become a manageable chronic condition, yet the general public has a substantial HIV/AIDS-related stigma (Ma et al. 1). Accordingly, people who have HIV/AIDS are discriminated against, and their behavior is morally judged due to inaccurate information of the disease alongside ignorance and fear of transmission (Ma et al. 1). Nonetheless, many activists, playwrights, and writers strive to reduce the stigma about the condition and individuals diagnosed with it. Matthew Lopez takes control of the narrative by presenting the experiences of people who have HIV/AIDS and their relatives, ACT UP members improve the lives of the infected by helping them to integrate into society, and Susan Sontag manages metaphors by exploring both negative and positive perceptions of the disease.


Matthew Lopez personalizes the fears of people with HIV/AIDS in his play The Inheritance. The playwright is set in modern days, starting from the year 2015, and describes three generations of gay men with varying acquaintances with the infection (Lopez 15). For instance, Walter is an older gentleman who has witnessed how “whispers of the disease had graduated to rumors” and has lost many friends to the sickness (Lopez 63). In comparison, Leo is a young man who knows “only a little” about the plague, during which “many gay men died,” but is himself infected with the illness (Lopez 273). Moreover, Adam is another youth who knows the feeling of being “scared to death” as he was once “temporarily HIV positive” but has timely received adequate treatment (Lopez 79). In addition, a character named Tristan suggests an idea that the epidemic was so influential that combatting it required “an institution as large and as powerful as the US Government” (Lopez 166). Consequently, Lopez takes control of the narrative surrounding HIV/AIDS by showing the experiences of different gay men to illustrate what living with the virus is like for homosexual persons.


A considerable effort in the public’s understanding of HIV/AIDS has been made by activists like ACT UP members. For example, individuals from ACT UP have organized meetings, conferences, and demonstrations to promote awareness of the disease, such as the necessity for more effective drugs (How to Survive a Plague). ACT UP was formed as a response to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS to help people diagnosed with the infection (How to Survive a Plague). ACT UP has struggled to bring the US Government’s attention to the medication problem. Since the formation of the group, the activists have aimed to increase FDA’s (Food and Drugs administration) involvement in the matter to shorten drug trials and make treatment more available (How to Survive a Plague). Moreover, ACT UP has familiarized society with the needs of people who have the virus by inducting into ACTUP the audience at the International AIDS Conference, the most attended HIV/AIDS-related convention (How to Survive a Plague). Accordingly, ACT UP members have taken control of by started discussions about the illness and the issues concerning HIV/AIDS so that those exposed could have sufficient medicine and support.


Metaphors shape people’s perception of diseases such that certain diseases develop negative associations and feelings of shame, such as cancer. Susan Sontag examines how “mysterious diseases,” such as cancer and tuberculosis, are related to metaphors and how they affect society’s perception (8). For instance, having cancer is associated with shame because numerous metaphoric flourishes have made the disease “synonymous with evil” (Sontag 81). In any case, the author proposes the thought that AIDS has banalized cancer as the former’s central allegory is torment. Subsequently, the plague metaphor relates with the foremost cynical epidemiological prospects where everybody is struck down. Hence, plaques are thought of as ethical judgments on society, and numerous gatekeepers of open ethics accept that Helps centers around cheerful men. In addition, AIDS in the US has become an illness of poor black and Hispanic individuals (Sontag 116). However, metaphors, including AIDS’s recognition as a plague, have to be exposed and criticized because they can provoke biases and discrimination (Sontag 129). Accordingly, Sontag takes control of metaphors surrounding HIV/AIDS by suggesting that metaphors of diseases must be confronted to reduce stigma within society.


To summarize, activists, playwrights, and writers address narratives and metaphors about HIV/AIDS by determining ways of helping, sharing the experiences of infected individuals, and investigating the public’s considerations. For example, Susan Sontag proposes that AIDS has for a long time been associated with a plague, which negatively impacts people’s reaction to the infection and may cause discrimination against minorities. Matthew Lopez demonstrates how the disease has affected the gay community, with the older generation having lost many loved ones and the youth not knowing the history but being terrified of the disease. Finally, such activists as ACT UP members raise important discussions and assist those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS to access better treatment. Despite having different methods, all of the mentioned persons strive to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS and bring attention to the needs of the exposed.

Works Cited

How to Survive a Plague. Directed by David France, Public Square Films, 2012.

Lopez, Matthew. The Inheritance. Faber and Faber Ltd, 2018.

Ma, Polly, et al. “Self-Stigma Reduction Interventions for People Living with HIV/AIDS and Their Families: A Systematic Review.” AIDS and Behavior, vol. 23, no. 3, 2018, pp. 1-35.

Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Picador, 1989.