In the lead up to World Aids Day (WAD) on December 1, Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), the national sexual health charity launched a HIV STIGMA statement at their Brighton Office on Friday, November 28 in the presence of their Chief Executive, Dr Rosemary Gillespie, local politicians and health professionals.
The statement reads:
“HIV is still a stigmatised condition and discrimination and prejudice remain issues of concern for people living with HIV.
“Fear of stigma and experiences of injustice can have a profound effect on individuals, causing isolation for those affected , which in turn can have significant implications for society as a whole. Stigma prevents people being open about their condition and inhibits the kind of open discussion that is needed to challenge society’s lack of knowledge and understanding about HIV.
“People have been bullied, intimidated and even threatened with violence because of their HIV status. Stigma and prejudice can compromise personal relationships, and fear of disclosure can prevent people from accessing the kind of basic support that other people living with long term conditions can expect from family and friends.
“The fear and isolation this creates can have a harmful effect on a person’s physical and emotional health. In many instances, people living with HIV can require more support in dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by HIV stigma, than with the physical impact of the virus. Mental ill health and depression in particular are common experiences for people living with HIV.
“From a public health perspective, HIV stigma also acts as a major barrier to HIV testing. It discourages people from coming forward for testing and can be a barrier to doctors recommending tests to people who may be at risk. This undoubtedly has an impact on the numbers of people who receive a late diagnosis in the UK which currently stands at about 50 per cent of all diagnoses.
“We can all play a part in tackling HIV stigma, by learning the facts about HIV and recognising that people living with HIV have equal rights and should not be defined by their HIV status.
We stand together to ensure that everyone has access to support, services, information and advice which can help to defeat HIV infection and HIV Stigma.”
Politicians attending the event included Cllr Jason Kitcat, the Green Leader of Brighton & Hove Council, Cllr Geoffrey Theobald, the leader of the Conservative Group on the City Council, Cllr Graham Cox, the Conservative Prospective Candidate for Hove & Portslade and Katy Bourne, the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner. Simon Kirby MP for Brighton Kemptown & Peacehaven was not able to attend but sent along a message of support.
In her speech, Dr Rosemary Gillespie the newly appointed Chief Executive of THT said that everything was on course to sustainably defeat HIV within a generation and reminded everyone that THT was formed by a group of friends of Terry Higgins, one of the first people to die of the illness in the UK, who were outraged that he had died alone and frightened because of STIGMA surrounding HIV/Aids at the time by health professionals.
Three speakers from Positive Voice, told their poinant stories about how they had been affected by Stigma and how they had learnt to challenge it.
The meeting was hosted by THT’s Regional Manager Sue Peters and the presentation was delivered by THT’s Health Promotion Coordinator for Community Engagement and Outreach, Ross Boseley.