HIV: we’ve all heard about it, but how many of those, both directly and indirectly, affected by it have you actually met? It is an infection which is largely considered to be an untreatable death sentence, associated solely with homosexuals, drug addicts and those of African descent. The reality, is very different. In the west today, we find ourselves in a situation where HIV, and AIDS, the disease it potentially progresses to, are readily treatable conditions and yet still the social stigma towards it remains.
This stigmatisation is thought to emerge from several different factors, including: misconceptions about transmission, fears surrounding socially sensitive issues such as sexuality, and a general lack of understanding about the illness. This has led to a stalemate in which society sees HIV as a problem with no possible solution.
Considering that it is thought that over 90,000 people are currently HIV positive in the UK today, with the number of cases rising daily, the matter is a pressing one.
More alarmingly, the number of individuals who are diagnosed late is very high, accounting for 50 per cent of newly diagnosed cases in 2010. Late diagnosis is associated with high morbidity and mortality, with those unfortunate individuals having a tenfold increased risk of dying within a year of diagnosis when compared to those diagnosed early. In addition to this, it is thought that a quarter of people with HIV in the UK remain undiagnosed, leading to an increased chance of infecting others and allowing for unnecessary progression to AIDS.
In order to prevent further future unnecessary infections and deaths, the issue needs to be discussed openly and the stigma eroded. The truth is that AIDS is an easily preventable affliction. It does not discriminate; it does not care about society’s woes or the sexuality of the recipient but all that is needed to prevent and manage it is the use of condoms and regular STI testing. In the unfortunate circumstance that it is transmitted, it can be treated, and particularly if diagnosed early.
In order to show that HIV is no longer a taboo and to help tackle the stigma that affects thousands of people in the UK, a HIV awareness campaign has been started locally, in York, and is being funded by Santander through York Solutions. The campaign celebrates the scientific research that may one day lead to a vaccine, whilst educating people about the disease and showing HIV in a positive light as a treatable and preventable infection.
To find out more about this campaign, and about HIV in general, you can visit these websites: www.HIVhaart.co.uk or www.avert.org.