Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Person-centred language and HIV research: a cross-sectional examination of stigmatising terminology in medical literature
  1. Kristen A McPherson1,
  2. Arjun K Reddy1,
  3. Nicholas B Sajjadi1,
  4. Kyle Deboy1,
  5. Swapnil Gajjar2,
  6. Madhuri Lad3,
  7. Micah Hartwell1,4
  1. 1 Office of Medical Student Research, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
  2. 2 Department of Industrial Engineering & Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA
  3. 3 Tulsa CARES, Tulsa, OK, USA
  4. 4 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
  1. Correspondence to Kristen A McPherson, Office of Medical Student Research, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, OK 74107, USA; kristen.mcpherson{at}


Objective We sought to quantify the use of person-centred language (PCL) in research journals that publish high volumes of HIV-related manuscripts.

Design In this cross-sectional study, we searched PubMed for HIV-related articles published between 1 January 2017 and 7 March 2021. After journal reduction and article randomisation, title and abstract screening was conducted among 500 studies in a masked, duplicate fashion.

Methods Studies that were included were systematically searched for prespecified, stigmatising terms, partial terms and phrases. Prevalence rates of non-person-centred terminology were totalled, and the total number of articles adherent to PCL guidelines were reported. Fisher’s exact tests were used to determine associations between PCL adherence and article funding source, type of article, continent of origin and research, among others.

Results Among 237 studies included, 21.52% (51) of HIV-related publications in this cross-sectional analysis were found to be PCL adherent. Stigmatising labels such as ‘HIV- or AIDS-infected’ and ‘HIV- or AIDS-person or patient’ were used most frequently, with the former appearing in 57.38% of articles and the latter appearing in 30.80% of articles.

Conclusion Despite numerous guidelines and requirements for the use of PCL in research, our findings suggest that an alarming number of HIV-related articles are not following these guidelines. This is concerning because this labelling likely contributes to the persistence of stigma in HIV-centred care. The intentional use of person-centred language in medical research has the potential to minimise the use of stigmatising language among medical professionals, in medical education, in medical records and patient encounters, and thus reduce stigma.

  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • HIV infections
  • public health

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

View Full Text


  • Handling editor Ming Jie Lee

  • Twitter @ArjunKot918

  • Contributors Writing—original draft: KAMcP, AKR, NBS, KD; writing—review & editing: KAMcP, MH; methodology: MH; formal analysis: MH, SG; supervision: MH; investigation: KAMcP, AKR; clinical/critical review: ML; guarantor: MH.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.