HIV hasn’t gone away, nor the complexity of issues that it can present. We’d be doing ourselves and our community a disservice to take the comfortable view that it has.
I WRITE this from varying perspectives, as a local Gay man diagnosed HIV-positive over 25 years ago, a person still involved in providing a support service along with and for others with HIV, and also as a Community Rep volunteer for Community Works, aiming to represent and support the local voluntary sector, focussing on HIV.
The advances of HIV treatment, improved life expectancy, and prevention, are all truly wonderful things to be celebrated. However, in contrast to this picture of success, hope and confidence for very many people, HIV continues to affect very many others – often profoundly.
As someone who is HIV-positive, feeling self-empowered and also wanting to empower others, this I have always found one of the most difficult messages to convey against a backdrop of encouragement to see HIV as something easily manageable.
That many people find living with HIV challenging, many are still greatly disadvantaged, despite all the good news stories. It’s always a joy to hear that people have accepted their HIV diagnosis well, are successfully on treatment, that health is good, and that everything feels fine in life.
But, it is no fault of anyone with HIV if these aren’t our circumstances. HIV stigma remains a very real experience, often from people with authority, power or influence and also within our own communities communities we might hope had become more knowledgeable and empathetic.
Some people who have been HIV-positive for a long time have diminished health and sometimes other health conditions that are difficult to manage. Ageing with HIV can present additional challenges, and those later diagnosed or starting treatments late may experience other difficulties.
Regarding stigma and self-esteem, you’ll still hear people talk about their own HIV diagnosis feeling ‘clean’ or not, and the examples of social rejection or other discrimination we sometimes still experience include blame for being infected, and avoidance of forming supportive relationships. These are far from all of the challenges for many of us with HIV, but hopefully a good starter for wider conversation.
Over the last two years you’ll hopefully have seen news about the ground breaking Towards Zero HIV strategy here in Brighton & Hove. The Martin Fisher Foundation worked with partners to develop the strategy and has led, with Brighton & Hove City Council, the successful application for the city to become the first United Nations (UNAIDS) Fast Track City in the UK in 2017.
As a Fast Track City, the aim is to build upon, strengthen, and leverage existing HIV programs and resources to accelerate locally coordinated, city-wide responses to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 and achieve the 90-90-90 targets by 2020.
What do those numbers mean!
Locally – 90% of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status on HIV treatment, 90% of PLHIV on HIV treatment with suppressed viral loads, and zero HIV stigma and discrimination.
The Brighton & Hove Towards Zero HIV Taskforce brings together a group of core stakeholders to consult, plan and direct the city’s approach to achieving and exceeding these targets, and towards zero HIV-related stigma, zero new infections and zero HIV-related deaths.
So, as news of this emerges, please don’t let this pass you by as something that doesn’t affect you or your community. It fundamentally needs your interest and engagement. As this work progresses, we’ll hear good news, learn of innovations, and see lots of calls to get involved.
There’ll be plenty of use of the words community, stakeholder, champion, advocate, supporter, and more… Please let’s recognise those descriptions mean us, whoever we are and whatever our HIV status, as individuals and as communities to care and respond, and to make an impact that changes and saves lives!
Gary Pargeter is the HIV rep at Community Works who connect charities, volunteers and businesses in Brighton, Hove, Adur and Worthing, so they can make our society and local areas better.