The stigma of HIV is not going away anytime soon in the UK as three in four Britons living with the virus still face discrimination or stigma.
Bigotry remains a reality for countless HIV-positive people despite once unthinkable medical advances, according to a survey released today to mark World AIDS Day.
After all, medicine means that people living with HIV do just that – live long and healthy lives.
However, the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), a sexual health charity, found that 62% of people living with HIV have faced raised eyebrows in their dating lives and in their relationships, for example because they have been rejected by dating apps.
They also faced narrow-mindedness in their sex lives, and for 59% of those surveyed, their status was also a barrier to accessing health care.
Many of those surveyed said they felt HIV stigma in almost every area of their lives. About a third said they had been discriminated against by their family, friends or their place of work.
In a sign of how much has changed since the global epidemic began four decades ago, more than half of those surveyed said medicine had set them free.
Of those surveyed by THT, 57% said antiretroviral therapy – a daily drug regimen that stops the virus from multiplying in the body – means they can “enjoy sex and not feel judged”.
This sense of freedom was felt by 55% who said it motivated them to continue treatment and 53% who said it had a positive impact on their mental health.
For years, HIV and sexual health advocates have joined hands to emphasize one thing: U = U, which stands for undetectable equals non-transmissible.
This means that when someone living with HIV receives appropriate antiretroviral treatment, their viral load (the amount of virus in their blood) becomes so low that they are no longer at risk of passing the virus on to someone else.
And little by little, the number of pills to be taken daily is getting fewer and fewer, and long-lasting monthly injections may soon become more widely available.
HIV preventive pre-exposure drug prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, is already available from the NHS.
However, this has not quite caught up with public perception. THT found that three-quarters (86%) of people living with HIV think the public doesn’t know the difference between HIV and AIDS.
HIV and AIDS are two very different things. HIV is a clever virus that gets into white blood cells and tricks them into making copies of them, says the NHS.
Over time, people’s immune systems try to hunt down these cells, weakening the body in the process – the number of potentially life-threatening infections and diseases that can follow is known as AIDS.
AIDS cannot be transmitted from person to person, but HIV can.
However, AIDS is much less self-evident for people living with HIV due to the immense development of treatment options.
Ian Green, CEO of THT, said: “It is extremely sad to hear that stigma for people living with HIV remains a major problem in the UK.
“We experience it every time someone cruelly rejects us on a dating app, whenever a health care provider takes extra precautions while drawing our blood, and whenever we hear a joke where HIV is the punchline.
“It’s clear that poor knowledge and outdated beliefs about the virus continue to fuel stigma because if people knew the truth about HIV, they would know there was no reason to discriminate against me or anyone else living with the virus.”
Matthew Hodson, managing director of the HIV education platform NAM aidsmap and living with the virus himself, knows this feeling well.
Stigma is something he hasn’t completely shaken off over the years, he tells Metro.co.uk, but speaking about his status without apology has helped.
“Stigma remains a big part of life for people living with HIV,” he says, adding that eradicating it is easier said than done.
“On a personal level, I’ve found that the more outrageous I am about my HIV status, the less stigma I experience. However, I recognize that as a cisgender white man I enjoy many privileges that other people do not have,” says Hodson.
“We have a situation where stigma prevents people from being open about their status, but it’s the fact that people can’t be open about it that perpetuates the stigma.”
And that stigma can take many forms. According to the UK’s Health Security Agency, for the first time in a decade, more straight people are becoming infected with HIV than gay men.
This patchy understanding of what it means to live with the virus can often lead people to think that HIV is nothing to worry about and therefore think they don’t even need to get tested for it.
“The more people are able to talk about living with HIV, the increase in life expectancy since treatment began and the impact of HIV on preventing HIV transmission, the more people believe us,” adds Hodson.
Hodson has two pieces of advice for people living with HIV who want to tell the world — even if it’s just a Twitter follower or a friend over coffee.
“Know why you want to share this information, don’t share it out of a place of weakness or insecurity. Share it from a place that makes you feel strong and confident,” he says.
“Once you’re certain that this is the right decision – and it’s a decision I would strongly and staunchly support and have no regrets about – it’s quite often helpful to tell them why you’re telling them to to help them respond appropriately.’
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/12/01/3-in-4-people-with-hiv-say-they-still-experience-discrimination-17854050/ 3 in 4 people living with HIV say they still experience discrimination