A couple of days ago was World AIDS Day. As I wrote last week, there has been extraordinary progress in treatments for HIV thanks to the advent of highly effective antiretroviral drugs. These drugs can keep a person’s HIV viral load down to a point where the virus is almost undetectable. This is great news not only for people living with HIV, but also for their partners, who are less likely to catch the virus from someone with a low viral load. Antiretroviral drugs have turned a once deadly infection into a manageable one — for those with access to the medication — in under three decades.
While treatment has vastly altered what it means to be diagnosed HIV-positive for many, there are some aspects of diagnosis that haven’t changed. One of those is the fear of stigma they are likely to face should they decide to disclose their HIV-positive status. The general public now has a much better understanding of how HIV is transmitted; there are no longer calls for people with HIV to be evicted from their homes or children with HIV to be banned from childcare centres, as occurred in the fearful days of the 80s.
But stigma still exists and it’s a real problem for public health campaigns trying to stop HIV. The fear of stigma can make many people bury their heads in the sand rather than getting tested. In Australia, 20–30% of people with HIV have no idea they are infected. Reducing stigma so that people get tested is crucial.
I wrote a piece on HIV stigma for World AIDS Day. One of the surprising aspects of stigma I discovered when researching this story, was that stigma can be the greatest in the gay community. Check it out here.
Also, head over to www.enuf.org.au to read some touching stories of how deeply a HIV diagnosis can affect people and sign the ENUF pledge.