By - Liv West
This year has seen tremendous reductions in HIV diagnoses for gay men especially, as last year it was calculated that 1/11 homosexual men in our capital were living with HIV/AIDS. This fantastic reduction in positive diagnosis has only been possible through the awareness raised about the virus that has as a result, helped fight not only the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS but also the stigmas around it.
I start this blog post with a truthful fact that the UK should be proud of, however I want to bring attention to one of the most prominent stigmas around HIV/AIDS in the UK - that it is a 'gay' virus. This is most definitely not true nor is it morally right to believe. The LGBT community has continuously been victimised for being 'carriers' and 'infectors' of the disease since the 1980's. It is said that 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV/AIDS, with a mixture of men and women, heterosexual and homosexual. HIV and AIDS isn't set to one gender, one race or one sexuality. HIV has no sexual preferences unlike us and this is something that needs to be brought to everyone's attention.
Within the media it seems that a lot of celebrities and influencers do bring fantastic awareness to the disease, but seem to put it off shore. Today for example, David Beckham posted on Instagram a picture of him with a young boy in Africa who was heartbreakingly diagnosed with the disease at the age of six. It is of course essential that we all understand that this is a virus that is extremely prominent in third world countries living in poverty however, it seems that sometimes this awareness can cause misjudgements as our generation tend to avoid research and take things from social media at face value.
As a young 21 year old girl, I myself have been tested for HIV 3 times throughout my life. Although this has been through routine sexual health screenings I have also chosen to have 2 HIV tests separately from my GP and even a home test kit. I have done so because I, like many young men and women have had unprotected sex and therefore, am at a potential risk. Although each test has come back negative doesn't mean that I, nor should you, avoid getting retested when changing sexual partners. I want to shed light on the fact that someone 'like me' who seems like a relatively 'normal' (what the bloody hell is normal?!) young heterosexual woman has been tested for the virus because whether we want to admit it or not, we are ALL susceptible to the virus as scary as that may seem. I feel that young people particularly do not get tested for HIV because they think they are in someways socially immune to it. This is an ignorance that has stemmed from the fact that society tends to focus on the stigmas of HIV/AIDS rather than the facts. The fact of the matter is, it is a virus that is contracted most commonly through unprotected sex and is therefore a universal virus. I feel it is a really important step in taking responsibility of own sexual health and in essence, the safety of your sexual partner too.
We are extremely lucky to be so strongly supported by the advances in science and technology that now allow us to be tested and diagnosed within 15 minutes with a rapid finger prick test, while also having the opportunity of testing in the comfort of our home. As fantastic as it is that you can now test anonymously at home and in Sexual Health Clinics it covertly reveals the sad reality of how stigmas around the disease have influenced these new procedures. Because of ignorance and discrimination, people with HIV/AIDS have for many years been limited to opportunities of success and even happiness, as www.worldaidsday.org document that people living with the condition are more likely to live in poverty, and to have poor mental health. Part of the solution to HIV is ending the stigmas around it and bringing awareness to it as a manageable condition that World AIDS Day have manifested in their 2017 campaign with the hashtag #LetsEndIt.
COMMON STIGMAS TO AVOID
1) ONLY GAY MEN HAVE THE DISEASE - this is the most prominent myth and one that is completely false. Although gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by HIV, this does not mean it is a 'gay' disease. Thousands of heterosexual men and women from all class divisions and races live with the disease today in the UK, meaning we should all take precautions and test ourselves. Information actually states that 60% of people that are diagnosed late and therefore, are living with the virus without knowing are heterosexual men while gay and bisexual men have the lowest proportion of late diagnoses.
2) YOU CAN GET HIV FROM KISSING - You cannot get HIV through kissing as this is only the exchange of saliva. The only thing you become victim of through kissing is bacteria and sometimes some grotesque kissing techniques. You cannot get HIV from sharing utensils, public toilets, and general human contact like shaking hands or cuddling. HIV has a rather specific route it likes to take and that is through having unprotected sex or sharing injecting equipment. This is because bodily fluids are exchanged.
3) I'M WHITE, MIDDLE CLASS AND WESTERN THEREFORE, I WONT HAVE IT - This is completely and utterly false and is just as morally wrong as assuming HIV as being a homosexual disease. As previously stated, HIV can be transmitted through any kind of unprotected sex regardless of your class, your skin colour and your heritage. I feel this is one of the fundamental problems with HIV/AIDS, as people particularly of my generation, seem to believe that it is a disease subject to your race, nationality or sexuality. HIV can effect anyone who has unprotected saucy interactions so whether you are African or British, Asian or French, if you are having unprotected sex then you are at risk of contracting sexual diseases and infections, including HIV. We may be ignorant, but HIV is not.
4) WOMEN WITH HIV CAN'T HAVE BABIES - false, false, false. According to the Terrance Higgins Trust 99 per cent of women who carry the virus have babies that are HIV negative. This is with help of antenatal screening and treatment throughout pregnancy meaning that women who have HIV can have HIV negative babies if they take guidance and support from health care professionals. How amazing is that?!
HIV is not a death sentence. With the right treatment and diagnosis people with HIV can live as long as people that do not have the disease.
"Hate the disease but not the diseased!" - We are all victims to ignorance no matter how educated we may be, we believe what people tell us including myself. However, by researching and looking into things that seem scary and are stigmatised like HIV/AIDS we can become more aware of the disease and therefore spread the right message rather than the wrong one.
Below are some links to the leading HIV/AIDS charities as well as some links to Sexual Health Clinics and home testing sites.