Today, if your HIV is diagnosed promptly and you have access to treatment, you should have about the same life expectancy as someone who remains uninfected.
When HIV treatment is effective, and reduces your viral load to undetectable levels, there isn’t any risk of passing the virus on during sex .
Consider what a huge leap that is from the situation in the 1980s or early 1990s. Back then, an HIV diagnosis was still considered a death sentence. Yet, despite this progress, HIV remains one of the most stigmatized of all medical conditions.
HIV stigma remains rampant
Gay men who dare to disclose their HIV status on dating apps will likely have at least some experience of rejection as a result. Social attitudes shift slowly. If you don’t believe me, just look at the comments under any HIV story in the local or national press.
For many people living with HIV, it is the stigma that they face that now provides the greatest challenge. Attitudes towards people living with HIV have not progressed as rapidly or as positively as the medical treatment has.
People will make judgments about you if you disclose to them, or even more so if you do not. The language that some use about people living with HIV is horrifying. People are blamed for contracting HIV, in a way that you wouldn’t dream of applying to smokers who get cancer. We are routinely vilified as predatory and irresponsible.
Practical advice for people with HIV about their rights in housing, shops and services is necessary. People living with HIV in the UK have the protection of the law to combat anti-HIV discrimination in the workplace.
NAM’s latest booklet, HIV, stigma and discrimination, offers guidance about the legal rights of people with HIV, as well as advice about personal issues, such as how to talk to families, colleagues and sexual partners about HIV.
Stigma hampers prevention and treatment
Combatting stigma isn’t just about supporting our brothers and sisters who are living with HIV. It’s also vital for HIV prevention efforts. When we become unable to talk about HIV, we are unable to have those important health related discussions that can prevent transmission.
When HIV is seen as the worst thing that can happen to a you, we are telling people with diagnosed HIV that there is no longer any need for them to take care of themselves, physically or emotionally.
People may be less likely to test when the dread of acquiring HIV becomes too great – and as a result will be late to access the treatment that will both extend their lives and make them uninfectious to their sexual partners.
So much has changed since the era of advertising campaigns with tombstones and the icebergs. People with HIV live full, productive lives. We work hard, sometimes we play hard, and we’re subject to all the same stresses and strains as everyone else, plus a few more.
Honesty not blind ignorance
To reduce the number of new infections we need to increase our capacity to do all those things that stigma hampers: testing, talking, honesty and openness.
Living with HIV is not as bad as it once was; we should all welcome the fact that it’s no longer a death sentence. But ignorance, prejudice and fear all combine to make it so much worse than it need be.
Stigma doesn’t just hurt people living with HIV, it harms all of us.
NAM’s booklet ‘HIV, stigma and discrimination’ is available to read online at aidsmap.com/stigma.
Matthew Hodson is Executive Director of NAM aidsmap and the recent winner of Social CEO of the year. Follow him on Twitter at @Matthew_Hodson. NAM aidsmap provides HIV news and treatment information to support people living with HIV, throughout the UK and internationally, to live longer and healthier lives. If you would like to make a donation to support NAM’s vital work, please visit:www.aidsmap.com/donate.
Author: Matthew Hodson