Reporting on HIV and AIDS

NBCU Academy 101

NBC News senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres goes over the basics for reporting on HIV and AIDS, from defining key terms that will be used in your reporting to offering up best practices that can help inform public understanding and reduce stigma.

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“Make sure to include the voices of people who have been diagnosed with HIV,” Torres said. “It’s important to get their perspective because they are being directly impacted by the virus.”

His advice includes:  

1. Avoid the term “HIV/AIDS” because HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable.  

HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Everyone who has AIDS also has the HIV virus, but not everyone living with HIV develops AIDS.

2. Use the phrase “a person living with HIV.” 

Avoid using the terms “victim” or “patient.”   

3. Avoid the term “high-risk group,” as it implies the risk is contained within a group.

To avoid stigmatizing a particular group, say “people who engage in high-risk behaviors” and be specific about the behavior and risk. If you have to discuss a group that has been disproportionately affected by HIV, say that group is a “key population vulnerable to HIV.”  

4. If someone’s HIV status is not immediately relevant to a story, there’s no need to mention it.

When it comes to running a story that focuses on someone’s HIV status, ask yourself: Does this story serve a public health purpose? Will this fairly and accurately depict people living with HIV? Does this story increase understanding and decrease stigma? If the answer is no, then you might want to reconsider running it. 

For more information, read the NLGJA Style Guide and the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.