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World Aids Day is the one  day in the year when the world remembers about HIV.

Most of the time this means pictures of somebody dieing in Africa. I don’t dismiss the fact that the African continent is carrying the heaviest burdern regarding HIV. However I am concerned that we often avoid looking in our own back yard:  how HIV is affecting people in the UK and how we respond to the epidemic here. It is extremely important that countries like the UK lead by examples and practice what they preach. I have previously talked about how the UK, who supports ‘Universal Access to Treatment’ for developing countries has excluded HIV from a list of communicable diseases that should be treated in the whole population, including failed asylum seekers and immigrants without papers. Why HIV has been singled out as an infectious illness that can not be treated in this country in those already extremely marginalized populations?

Stigma.

It doesn’t only exist in the hearts and minds of people, but also still survives in core health policies and institutions.

This is why I am so happy this World Aids Day saw the release of the first findings from the Stigma Index roll-out in the UK.

Here is an extract from the IPPF press release:

New research led by people living with HIV shows physical and verbal harassment a common reality for people living with HIV in the UK.

Newly published research documenting how people living with HIV in the United Kingdom have experienced stigma and discrimination – and have been able to challenge and overcome it – makes it is clear that the problem is still widespread within UK society.

The research, conducted over the last 6 months, asked people to report their experiences in the last 12 months.

Key findings show that people living with HIV face significant stigma and discrimination:

  • 21% (185 of the 867 participants in the research) of people living with HIV had been verbally assaulted or harassed
  • 12% had been physically harassed because of their HIV status in the previous 12 months

The Stigma Index is the first research to comprehensively document the experiences of people living with HIV that is driven by people living with HIV.

The results highlight concerns that stigma and discrimination within some parts of the NHS are denying comprehensive and quality care for some people living with HIV and can create obstacles that impede access to care and support services:

• 146 participants (17%) report being denied health services because of their HIV status at least once in the previous 12 months
• 18%, nearly 1 in 5 people, stated that it was clear to them that their medical records were not being kept confidential, a further 42% of participants felt uncertain that their medical records are being kept confidential

Research has indicated there is a need to address attitudes and develop strategies for change, to educate and support the health service to meet the needs of people living with HIV more effectively.

More positively, the research makes it clear that people living with HIV are at the forefront of confronting and overcoming devaluing attitudes, speaking out against prejudice and challenging stereotypes:

• 45 % of people living with HIV had personally confronted, challenged or educated people who were stigmatizing them
• 84 % had supported other people living with HIV ‘

More information is found at the IPPF site.

The findings of The People Living With HIV Stigma Index were presented on November 30th at the Houses of Parliament.

Andy Burnham, MP, Secretary of State for Health, had been invited but couldn’t come and nobody from the Ministry of Heath participated to the launch. Also the ex vice-president from Zambia had been invited , but was absent. What does this tell us about political leadership on the issue of stigma?

In spite of the silence of our politicians I would like to say that people living with HIV did a lot of work:

Adrienne Seed, Poz Fem Regional Coordinator for the North West was interviewed on This Morning on ITV. You can watch her here

Alice Welbourn, also a PozFem member, wrote a moving article for Open Democracy: When Things Fall Apart, where she charts her own personal experiences of what she learnt about HIV, about herself and about others during her early years of living with her diagnosis. She reflects on how traumatic experiences can also be ones of growth and self-knowledge – and how HIV has much to teach us all.

I also had a few opportunities to raise awareness: I recorded 15 interviews in conjunction with Mac AIDS Fund which have been broadcast on over 120 radios on the 1st of December. I also published an article with Open Democracy on HIV and Gender Violence ant this blog was featured in ‘The Best of the Web’ by The Guardian On Line and received hundreds of hits.  I was also featured in the World AIDS Day campaign by the National AIDS Trust.

I know many of the Regional Coordinators from PozFem have been up to several things, so if you are reading this blog and would like to share your contributions on World AIDS Day it would be great to hear it.

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