Silvia Petretti is a woman living with HIV and advocate for the human rights of people living with HIV. She was diagnosed in 1997 and since 2005 she has been openly living with HIV, because she believes it is a powerful  tool to  challenge the stigma and prejudices  directed towards women living with HIV.  Silvia has been working with  Positively UK  for 16 years and is now leading the organization as Deputy CEO. She is a member of the steering group of the  UK Community Advisory Board, a national network of treatment advocates,  and was its chair from 2012 to 2016. Silvia is an experienced trainer and public speakers and one of the authors of the SHE toolkit:  a manual to enable women living with HIV in Europe to develop peer support services.  The manual has been translated in 10 languages.  Silvia has played a key role in training women activists using the SHE  toolkit in the UK, Italy, Russia and Finland. Silvia represented the Global Network of People Living with HIV at the United Nation High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in 2011 by giving a keynote speech, and has given evidence to the House of Lords for the report: HIV No Vaccine No Cure.  Silvia is also  member of the Global Reference Group which contributed to the first global consultation on Women with HIV and access to HIV treatment commissioned by UN Women, some of the preliminary findings can be seen here  Silvia writes a blog  on HIV and Activism: Speaking Up, and has contributed to popular online media such as  Open Democracy and Huffington Post.


What I write in this blog represent my personal views and opinions, not those of the organizations and networks I am associated with. 


18 thoughts on “About

  1. Ciao Silvia,
    ti ho scoperta tramite Adrienne hivine, e sono interessata a questa tematica dell’Hiv ,io convivo con da 3 anni con l’Hiv, spero di leggere questo blog aiutandomi con un traduttore poiche’ il mio inglese non e’ eccellente. Perora ti saluto. A presto:)

  2. Silvia,

    sei ancora più bella dei tempi del liceo. Ho letto i tuoi interventi ed ascoltato alcune interviste che hai rilasciato. Ho sempre pensato che fossi una persona fuori dal comune, generosa e le tue vicende non fanno che confermare antichi pensieri.

  3. tienes razon si no se levanta uno a hablar la siguen pizando y pizando por ejemplo yo estoy fastidiada con el systme de educacion como dejan pasar el abuso de algunos maestros y principales hacia nuestros ninos y no los suspenden de sus cargos y el abuso sigue una y otra y otra vez hasta tal punto que los padres se cansan y se ven obligados a cambiar a sus hijos a otras escuelas por eso que nuestros jovenes crecen rebeldes con nuestra sociedad por que esta misma sociedad los denigra y los himillas por el solo hecho de ser los adultos mas fuertes y poderosos por eso cuando el joven se desarrolla y se libera sigue ese mismo patron de abuso hagamos algo para parar este abuso escolar

  4. Hi Silvia
    It’s interesting to hear that HIV is also stigmatized in Europe. Here in East Africa, everyone who is HIV positive is automatically stigmatized because, according to UNAIDS, almost all HIV in African countries is transmitted through heterosexual sex.

    But UNAIDS’ view of HIV outside of Africa is that HIV is mostly transmitted by men having sex with men, intravenous drug use and commercial sex work.

    Despite admitting that HIV can be transmitted efficiently through contaminated blood, for example, by intravenous drug users, UNAIDS doesn’t seem willing to accept that medical transmission of HIV plays a significant part in any of the epidemics in African countries.

    This is odd, because there have been outbreaks of medical transmission and suspected medical transmission in many countries. How such outbreaks could be rare in countries with appalling conditions in medical facilities is not clear.

    Anyhow, here in Africa, HIV means illicit sex of some kind, according to the received view. UNAIDS may keep repeating that they are opposed to stigma, but by insisting that HIV here is almost always transmitted through heterosexual sex, they are stigmatizing people.

    I’m hoping that one day, UNAIDS and the rest of the HIV industry will get around to admitting that non-sexual HIV transmission also plays a part in African epidemics and it needs to be investigated so that good prevention campaigns can be mounted.

    But I wonder if people in European countries are aware that HIV can be transmitted by unsafe medical and even cosmetic practices, such as tattooing and other processes?

  5. Dear Simon,

    Thanks for your comment. In Europe we are aware that HIV can be transmitted also by medical procedures when the equipment is not sterilised. I would say that Universal Precaution as recommended by WHO are in place in hospitals and even tattoo parlours are heavily checked so that they have in place proper sterilising procedures.

    It is always good to remember that HIV becomes inactive very quickly once it is outside the body. As soon as the blood is dry the virus is dead. It is constituted by a delicate fatty membrane which gets destroyed by simply washing surfaces with soap and water. Therefore sterilising procedures for HIV are not that hard to implement.

    Medical transmission of HIV may play a part in the HIV epidemic. However I don’t think this hugely changes prevention strategies . HIV is still widely transmitted through sex. We need to deal with this reality. There is nothing wrong with sex. Sex is part of life. O still believe it is important that we learn to talk openly about sex. That we use condoms or femidoms when we don’t know our partner status. And that we get tested.

  6. Hi Silvia
    Thank you for your reply. But sadly, people here in East Africa, even professionals working in the fields of HIV and health in general are not aware about medical and cosmetic risks. Even official sources of information about non-sexual HIV transmission accept that it could account for over 10, perhaps over 20% in some countries.

    Preventing non-sexually transmitted HIV is completely different from preventing sexually transmitted HIV. Using condoms, abstaining, sticking to the same partner, talking about sex, none of those things are relevant to preventing non-sexually transmitted HIV. So people go to hospitals, clinics, quack doctors, tattoo parlors, hairdressers and dentists without knowing anything about the risks they face nor how to protect themselves.

    In places where being HIV positive can mean life long persecution, it would make a very big difference if people knew that they were not infected sexually. But, as things stand, the entirely racist, sexist and incorrect line that UNAIDS takes stigmatizes people, especially women, who are far more likely to be infected than men.

    Finally, I’m shocked that you believe that HIV becomes ‘inactive’ quickly once it’s outside the body or when it’s dry and that you can destroy it by washing surfaces with soap and water. Although this view is very widely accepted, it is not correct. This and other incorrect beliefs about HIV are covered here:


    It’s vitally important that people know more than just their HIV status. HIV positive people also need to know how they became infected so that all routes to infection can be dealt with appropriately.

    Contrary to what you say, we don’t know what percentage of HIV transmission comes from unsafe sex because levels of non-sexual HIV transmission have never been measured; estimates have been based on guesswork and assumption.

  7. Hi Silvia,
    As you note, medical transmission is not important for HIV transmisison in Europe. But it may be in Africa. And it makes a difference to both stigma and prevention to say so.
    1. Consider the situation for African and Asian women who are HIV+ and married. From Demographic and Health Surveys (http://www.measuredhs.com/), if a woman is HIV+ more than half of the husbands are HIV- in most of Africa. In Ethiopia, Benin, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of Congo, over 3/4ths of their husbands are HIV-. Therefore, whoever denies the importance of non-sexual transmission is, in effect, saying they know something about these women’s sexual behavior? Do they? It is important to be careful before accusing people of sexual behavior they did not do!
    In India, 39% of married HIV+ women have HIV-negative husbands! Whoever says HIV comes almost entirely from sex is whistering to those womens’ husbands and families — “You know what she did! She’ll deny it, but you know!” That is very dangerous to Indian women, who may lose their children, be thrown out of their homes, even killed.
    2. Saying that medical transmsision may be important in Africa sends a warning to Africans to be careful. Note that WHO/UNAIDS warn UN employees to avoid health care in Africa. Let’s be clear — Health care in Africa in not reliably safe, and women should be careful! Not all violence against women comes from sexual partners — it may be hidden in an infected needly or an unwashed specula.
    Finally, I’d like to clarify a point of fact: In response to Simon, you say that HIV dies quickly outside the body. That is mistaken — all the studies about HIV survival that have been published in refereed medical journals report that HIV can live outside the body in dry conditions for hours to days, and for weeks in wet conditioins. You can find a summary of the evidence along with references Points to Consider, at: http://sites.google.com/site/davidgisselquist/pointstoconsider.
    Best regards,

  8. Dear Simon and David,

    First of all thank you so much for your comments and clarifying the extended survival of the virus outside the body. I would still say that certain conditions need still to be in place for the virus to remain infectious. Other blood born viruses such as HEP C and HEP B are much more infectious outside the body and survive much longer.

    Implementing Harm Reduction for Drug Users I have lerant that it is possible to sterilize syringes using a solution of 1 cup of bleach in a litre of water. Obviously nothing is as safe as using brand new injecting equipment!

    I am not familiar with some of the data about HIV prevalence in discordant couple that you refer to. Would you kindly share the research it comes from? It seems a quite difficult data to collect.

    Once again thank you for binging this issue to me. I am not very familiar with it.

    My only concern is that of creating two groups of people living with HIV: the ‘Innocent Victims’ , an the rest of us who may have contracted HIV through sex and drugs. I think that within this debate we need to continue to stress that HIV is only a virus, not a moral stamp, however you were infected.

  9. Hi Silvia
    The research papers about how long HIV stays active ‘outside a human body’ are referenced in David’s book. But you’d be surprised how many health professionals have very dangerous beliefs about the virus!

    Discordance is covered in Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which you can find at http://www.measuredhs.com/ For Kenya, about half the HIV positive married females have HIV negative husbands.

    Your point about creating two types of HIV positive person is important. At present there two types, those who may have been infected through sex, drug use, medically, etc, or those who are African. Those who are in the first group may not have been infected through unsafe sex, those who are in the second group are assumed to have been infected sexually.

    I quite agree with you, HIV is a virus, it is not just about sex, even where it’s transmitted sexually. The conditions under which people have sex, with whom, when, how often and the forms the sex takes often have little to do with sex.

    Whether HIV is acquired sexually or not, it should not be a ‘moral stamp’. The stigma comes from the association of HIV with ‘unsafe sex’ and ‘immoral behavior’. And this is much more directed at Africans than non-Africans (and at African women more than African men).

    The aim of health care professionals should be to treat those infected and to prevent further transmission. Clearly, the Aids industry is not doing that because they have created a culture of blame and accusation. Find a vulnerable group, women, men who have sex with men, Africans, sex workers, and blame them.

    But as long as they deny that HIV is being transmitted non-sexually in African countries, the industry will not significantly reduce the epidemic.

    However, all this points to a need to identify where HIV infections are coming from and not to continue ignoring infections that don’t fit into the sexual paradigm. The aim should be to reduce blame and stigma, not just to shift the blame and stigma to another group!

    If the overall aim of the Aids industry is to reduce the spread of HIV and to eradicate the virus, it needs to be established how the disease is spreading and how to stop that. The process of singling out groups and stigmatizing them has not worked and will never work. So I think we are in agreement there! But I think you’ll see why it’s important not just to know who is infected but how they became infected.

  10. Dear Silvia

    I am writing to you to talk about about a new HIV campaign that I hope yo might feel is important. While many live with the stigma of HIV there are now drugs available to stop newborns with HIV mothers being born into this stigma. While this will not help current suffers it can help future generations and help saves lives throughout the world. Today ONE launched the NO CHILD BORN WITH HIV BY 2015. This campaign will be an intense burst for a week channelled through http://www.one.org, culminating with the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit next Monday (20-22nd September) in NYC. I wander whether you might think this it is a worthy cause? You can check it out at
    We would immensely appreciate your support by signing the online petition and – if you’re so inspired – to blog about it or share it with your friends by email or on Twitter.
    This is a cause that can only be made good with the help of the public. Every name on the petition counts.

  11. Dear Silvia

    I am a romance writer, and have recently written a novel telling a woman’s story about living with the stigma of being HIV positive. I have gotten really good feedback from my beta readers, but haven’t been able to get anybody with actual experience with HIV/AIDS to read it. Would you be interested in giving it a quick read? I have spent days researching, but am still hesitant about putting it “out there” without somebody who has real-life experience with HIV/AIDS reading it first, and telling me if I’ve gotten it all right or not. If you aren’t interested, maybe you know somebody who is? My goal in writing it was to tell the story of an HIV positive woman living her life just like everybody else. She’s still the same person she was before her diagnosis, even if others don’t necessarily see that. Of course, I’m a romance author, so there’s a guy who gets thrown in there, and she has to deal with telling him, too. My beta readers were all fascinated with the subject matter, and told me that they learned a lot that they didn’t know about AIDS before reading it. I just want to make sure that I’m not giving out false information…

  12. Dear Anne,

    i wouldn’t mind reading it I think I have replied to one of your emails forwarded to me by my frien Alice. Would you like to contact me on HIVSpeakingUp@gmail.com with more detail and time line?

  13. Dear Silvia, hi! I discovered your blog for myself some days ago and I am under the strong impression: it’s beautiful both how and what You tell about HIV, yourself, problems, achievements and life in general. Many thanks! Good luck!

  14. Hello

    I’m John by name and a support of causes that improve the well being of humanity.

    I recently decided to introduce a project in my country (Nigeria) that is based on helping people living with HIV and AIDS. I would love to receive guidance and mentorship from you with its implementation and operations.

    I know that you are passionate about what you do and i will immensely appreciate if you could assist with your experience and expertise. I believe that much could be done and in the right way if you will oblige and share your thoughts and ideas.

  15. Thank you for your comment John. Let me know if you have any questions please. I hope we can collaborate!

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