The Lancet : Advocating Person-First Inclusive Language In HIV Discourse

The Lancet has joined the global effort to combat stigmatization in HIV reporting and research

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In a recent editorial, The Lancet Journal announced its endorsement of The People First Charter, a significant step towards promoting person-first language in the field of HIV research and reporting. This move highlights the journal's commitment to putting people at the forefront of its content and dismantling harmful stereotypes and stigmatization often associated with HIV. 

The power of language in shaping public perception and attitudes cannot be overstated. The Lancet acknowledges its role as a disseminator of ideas, information, and innovations in the realm of HIV, recognizing that the way we communicate about this topic can either empower or marginalize individuals and communities. 

For The Lancet, adopting person-first language is not merely a stylistic choice but a fundamental ethical principle. It seeks to avoid labelling individuals by their diseases or conditions and aims to mirror the terminology used by the communities themselves. Gone are the days of referring to people as "HIV-infected" or "AIDS-infected." Instead, the focus shifts to terms like "people living with HIV," a simple yet profound shift that places the individual ahead of the condition. 

Person-first language is not only more respectful but also more accurate. It recognizes that individuals do not fail treatment; sometimes, treatment fails them. When discussing behaviours associated with HIV risk, The Lancet advises using terminology like "mode of HIV acquisition" or "acquisition risk" instead of the potentially stigmatizing "risk group" or "transmission risk."The Lancet acknowledges that some terminology may be deeply ingrained in the field, such as "mother-to-child transmission." However, it encourages a shift towards "vertical transmission," a term that focuses on the mode of transmission and is inclusive of all individuals involved. 

While The Lancet has long advocated for person-first language, recent research reveals that there is still much progress to be made. A study examining journals publishing high volumes of HIV research between 2017 and 2021 found that 57 per cent of included studies used stigmatizing language. This data underscores the urgency of embracing person-first language and eliminating harmful stereotypes. 

The People First Charter, launched in July 2021 and led by Laura Waters, has garnered support from a wide range of organizations, including The Lancet journals, care providers, advocacy groups, and pharmaceutical companies. It calls upon policymakers, researchers, conferences, journals, and care providers to adhere to the principles of person-first language. The Lancet acknowledges that language evolves over time and that there are no fixed rules. What is essential is engaging with the communities affected by HIV to understand their preferred terminology continually. Open discussions about preferred language will drive understanding and change. 

By putting people first in language and discourse, we can contribute to a more inclusive and compassionate approach to HIV research and reporting, ultimately reducing stigma and improving the lives of those living with HIV.


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