From the Peace Corps to Public Health School: Continuing the AIDS Conversation

Columbia Public Health Student Explains Why We Need to Move Beyond Stigma and Fear in HIV Prevention

December 1, 2013

In 2008, when Jeremiah Johnson tested HIV positive while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, his biggest fear—beyond his health concerns—was that he would not be able to finish his service. That fear became a reality when the Peace Corps dismissed him because of his diagnosis. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Johnson later got the Peace Corps policy overturned, and HIV-positive volunteers are now allowed to continue their service.

But when he started to explore HIV on a national level, he realized that the fear and shame he had experienced in his personal journey with HIV were only amplified in conversations surrounding the disease.

“Stigma and fear and shame continue to drive this epidemic and do immeasurable harm to those with HIV,” he says.

In a talk at TEDMED CUMC 2013, Mr. Johnson suggested that health campaigns use positive messaging, instead of fear, to promote safe behavior and battle the disease.

"Fear and shame-based approaches in HIV treatment and prevention..." Jeremiah Johnson, MPH