Tuesday, 8 December 2009

HIV and stigma

Last week was World AIDS Day, and you could be forgiven for missing it if you blinked. Discussing this with colleagues and friends, there were a range of views on this from ‘well it is not such a threat anymore and so of course it will be lower profile’ to ‘this is seriously worrying – the press don’t report it as they did, people don’t wear red ribbons and it is an opportunity missed’.

For many of course, the day will not have gone by unnoticed, as they remember the long list of friends, lovers and family members who have died from AIDS related illnesses over the last twenty years. And for some, diagnosed with HIV in a different era when diagnosis equalled imminent death the day is a reminder of how advances in treatment have changed their future and life expectancy radically.

So whatever our views on the importance of a high profile World AIDS Day, the stark and unpleasant fact remains, stigma towards people living with and affected by HIV is a significant reality. According to new research funded by the Department for International Development and the Internal Planned Parenthood Federation stigma in Britain is worse now than it was a decade ago. Shocking findings if you expect more from the people of this country.

So as official figures showed the number of people living with HIV in the UK has reached 83,000, an 8% increase on the previous year, with approximately a quarter of those people unaware they have HIV, this is not the time for complacency.

I support calls for a cross government action plan to tackle discrimination, and I completely agree with David Borrow MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS, that the ‘public sector has a special responsibility to treat everyone it serves with respect’. We must continue to raise awareness of HIV in schools and communities and whilst we wait for government’s action plan, and even when we get it, we must all take personal responsibility for educating against ignorance and challenging robustly the unacceptable stigma towards people living with HIV.

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