News Centre

30 Nov 2007

Stigmatization toward people living with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable groups among the general public in Hong Kong

30 Nov 2007

The Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong conducted a telephone survey on stigmatization toward people living with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable groups in 2004. A total of 2,008 Chinese adults (1,004 males and 1,004 females) aged 18-50 years from the general Hong Kong population were interviewed. The response rate was around 53%. Findings of the study will be published in AIDS Care, an internationally peer-reviewed journal.

About half of the respondents in this study demonstrated at least one of the following discriminatory attitudes toward people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA): PLWHA should be prohibited from going to school or work; PLWHA should move out of their home and not live with their family members; would avoid making contact with PLWHA friends; and object to PLWHA service facilities in their neighborhood. About 74% of the respondents perceived that the majority of PLWHA is promiscuous and almost one-fourth (22.3%) of the respondents believed that PLWHA’s sickness is a punishment that they deserve. Prof. Joseph T.F. Lau, the principal investigator of this study, comments, ‘There is a substantial level of discrimination toward PLWHA in Hong Kong. Such discrimination would compromise the effectiveness of HIV prevention and care programs, and adversely affects the quality of life of these patients.’

Prof. Lau said that discriminatory attitudes toward other vulnerable groups are also prevalent. Some negative perceptions are as follows.


Men having sex with men (MSM)

Female sex workers (FSW)

Clients of female sex workers (CFSW)

Cannot accept them as friends




Their behaviors are pathological




It is necessary to enact a law to prohibit their relevant behavior




They are immoral




Prof. Lau further pointed out that the societal rejection of the aforementioned groups who are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and discriminatory attitudes toward PLWHA were positively correlated with one another. For example, 33.6% of those who expressed greater stigmatization (higher composite scores) toward MSM believed that HIV/AIDS is a punishment deserved to be received by the PLWHA, while only 17% of those with lower stigmatization scores had the same idea. Generally speaking, those who showed a stigmatizing view on MSM, FSW and CFSW were 2 to 3 times more likely than their counterpart to harbor discriminatory attitudes toward PLWHA.

Prof. Lau said that discriminatory attitudes toward different vulnerable groups may share similar underlying roots. Therefore, campaigns against HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination should also address general principles of discrimination and promote social acceptance of different vulnerable groups as a whole. Otherwise, the campaign would not be effective.

In the coming years, organizations like AIDS Concern will launch large-scale campaigns in Hong Kong to promote acceptance of PLWHA. The Chinese University of Hong Kong will cooperate with AIDS Concern to evaluate the effectiveness of their campaigns in 2008.

At present, there are more than 3,500 PLWHA in Hong Kong. On average, at least one person becomes infected each and every day. However, almost no infected persons are willing to publicly disclose their identity. PLWHA should be treated as ordinary citizens in Hong Kong and have the right to live a normal life, or they would become an invisible community.