For a country with a questionable human rights record, stories showing the prevalence of open discrimination against people living with HIV are, perhaps, not surprising, but it doesn’t make them any the less shocking. This week three men were denied boarding on a budget Chinese airline because they disclosed their status to airline staff. After a hurried call to the head office in Shanghai the passengers were told they would be unable to fly because of their HIV status. To make matters worse in an apology from the airline they blamed the incident on staff anxiety and said HIV passengers were allowed to fly as long as they don’t make their HIV status ‘overly noticeable’ (what exactly they meant by this is anyone’s guess) . This comes on the back of other recent stories emphasising the entrenched nature of HIV discrimination in the country, such as plans to prevent people who are HIV positive from entering bathhouses and numerous cases of blatant employment discrimination (see here for example). One things clear, in global terms being HIV positive in China is much tougher than in many other countries and the discrimination faced reaches levels that are, thankfully, rarely observed in other parts of the world.
Spring Airlines: Accused of HIV discrimination
But, how does this compare to things here in the UK? On the upside, there have been some progressive legal steps in the last few years. For example, the government lifted employment restrictions for people living with HIV in healthcare several months ago, and since the Equality Act 2010 it has been illegal to discriminate someone for their HIV status in the workplace. However, we are still a long way from living in a country free from HIV stigmatisation (if this is ever possible) regrettably. 78% of those questioned in a UK based study said that they had experienced discrimination as a result of their HIV status. The ‘People Living with HIV Stigma Index’, published a few years ago, demonstrated the way in which our society is imbued with discrimination related to HIV status in ways that are extremely damaging. The report highlighted stigmatisation in employment, with family members/partners, and in health care, in particular. Below is a quote from the study:
“I don’t disclose in my work environment because even though I actually think it might help the cause to talk about HIV positive people doing fulfilling jobs. … I don’t trust them not to think that I am not as good a teacher because I am positive. I don’t trust them to be broad minded enough to forget the HIV.”
The issue of discrimination is crucial to those working in HIV prevention. Stigmatisation about HIV status is one of the key reasons people might be unwilling to talk about or do a test, discuss their status or talk about transmission and risk. It is one of the issues that our outreach workers most commonly discuss with people we are doing HIV tests with, or talking to out and about in bars, clubs and saunas in London. One thing is strikingly clear from our outreach – HIV discrimination is definitely not solely a Chinese issue, but something that is prevalent and has real effects on people living in the UK too (and in many other parts of the world), even in 2014. For more information on the work of the GMI Partnership please see our website.