The scrawl across the toilet door read ‘Pedro Santos (pseudonym) is a faggot HIV carrier’. Pedro had just told a couple of friends that he was HIV positive and one of them decided everyone else in his army barracks should know too. Days later Pedro found himself out of a job and a few weeks later he was kicked out of his house by his mum who was worried that she could catch HIV using the same glasses and cutlery as her son. That was the experience of a friend from Brazil in 2009, but it could easily be someone in London today. A recent report shows that 1 out of 5 HIV positive people in the UK have been harassed, threatened or verbally assaulted in the last 12 months (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/nov/29/hiv-study-stigma-attitudes-discrimination).
Although many of us are guilty of assuming HIV discrimination is a problem mostly concerning the global south, where we often attribute such problems to lack of education, understanding and ignorance, actually it is rife in the UK and other Western counties. One of the reasons is that many of the behaviours associated with HIV are themselves stigmatised – homosexuality, promiscuity and drug taking, to name but a few, and discrimination related to HIV often reflects prejudice related to the groups associated with such behaviours, such as prostitutes or gay men. Another reason is a lack of understanding about how HIV is transmitted and particularly the worry that it can be passed on through social contact. Stigmatisation related to HIV is dangerous because it leads to silence around status and can cause a reluctance to start treatment resulting in a lack of medical, psychological and social support. The Secretary General of the UN summarised the effects of the stigmatisation of HIV:
“Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-general of the UN
Red ribbon at UN Human Rights Tower, New York – 2011 Campaign to fight HIV discrimination.
Public attitudes are changing though and, thankfully, more and more people living with HIV find that they can be open about their status and find that their status is accepted by their friends and family. As of 2005 discrimination related to HIV is also illegal in health care and employment in the UK (see AIDS map report for a really straightforward guide http://www.aidsmap.com/files/file1001097.pdf). Whether you experience prejudice or not as a result of your HIV status support is often needed to deal with all aspects of life and to adjusting to life as someone who is HIV positive. Luckily there are also lots of support services doing great work in London. Here are the details of a few:
Firstpoint – Free services for recently diagnosed people in south London.
http://www.slhp.org.uk/ – 020 7160 0949
Positive East – Information, advice and support for HIV positive in London,159 Mile End Road, Stepney Green, 020 7791 2855
Body and Soul – Body & Soul, 020 7923 6880, http://bodyandsoulcharity.org/, 99 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4RE
HIVe – Social group for HIV positive men in London. Cliff Pereira – firstname.lastname@example.org
NAM / Aidsmap
NAM Lincoln House 1 Brixton Road London SW9 6DE UK
Terrence Higgins Trust (THT)
Offers a wide range of HIV information and support services
THT Direct: 0808 802 1221 Monday to Friday 10am – 10pm Saturday & Sunday 12noon – 6pm
Ask the HIV Health Trainer service: www.tht.org.uk/howwecanhelpyou/livingwithhiv/hivhealthrainers
Terrence Higgins Trust 314-320 Gray’s Inn Road London WC1X 8DP
020 7812 1600
National AIDS Trust (NAT)
Information, resources and answers to some of the most important questions you have when living with HIV. NAT is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV, www.nat.org.uk/Living-with-HIV.aspx , 020 7814 6767, email@example.com
NAT New City Cloisters 196 Old Street London EC1V 9FR
Naz Project London
Naz Project London 30 Blacks Road London W6 9DT
What are your experiences of stigmatisation related to HIV/AIDS? What advice would you give to people experiencing discrimination?
Here at GMI Partnership we provide free sexual health support for gay/bisexual men and trans people living in London who are HIV negative including counselling, mentoring and advice. Discrimination related to HIV status, sexuality and sex-work are some of the issues are trained staff often encounter as a result of the programmes we offer. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org