HIV stigma

HIV was in the news last month, as Public Health England published new data showing a steep decline in HIV diagnoses in gay
Today's, it's less HIV and more HIV-related stigma that's the killer. Stigma brings people to my clinic who have been living with HIV for too long before diagnosis. And they haven't been diagnosed because they are scared, ignorant or isolated.
Stigma underpins the violence women living with HIV face. HIV and the stigma associated with it can destroy confidence and erode lives. Stigma operates in a number of ways. Women are often the first to be tested for HIV in a family.
What do we mean by stigma? What does this word signify? It's one we hear a lot in all sorts of contexts, but what particular impact does it have upon those living with HIV? Why is it such a deterrent when it comes to taking a test?
With World Aids Day fast approaching, it seems that the word HIV is on everyone's lips. The truth is, an HIV diagnosis is life-changing, and can trigger deep held fears about belonging, mortality and health, leading to depression, anxiety, and a loss of aspiration and self-care.
Not having an HIV test puts your life at risk, and those of others. So the message of this NHTW is very clear: we must reduce the stigma around HIV. Healthy people with HIV must talk about it; the general public must become educated about HIV; and we need to test as many people as possible.
Despite the huge evolution of treatments, there still exits a big stigma surrounding the condition, not least in the diagnosed themselves. But as Charlie Sheen's recent disclosure shows us, only when we find acceptance of our own condition can the world begin to fully heal its perception.
In the 30 years I've had HIV, I never expected to feel sorry, tender even, for a Hollywood actor, let alone Charlie Sheen: wanting to give this hot man-mess a hug, clap him on the back, spur him on to sober up and start living with HIV rather than dying from the shame of it. I really hope Charlie's self-outing as HIV positive does mark his final emergence from whatever swamp of chaos he's been floundering in this last five years.
The perpetuation of the myth of the anonymous, promiscuous individual punished for their sexual appetite by an HIV diagnosis, and by being shunned by their friends and colleagues, is very sad to see - and entirely divorced from the reality of HIV in 2015.
The issue us that no-one that catches such a still potentially lethal sexually transmitted infection should be paraded before us for public disapproval, because all you do is perpetuate the message that HIV infection is something to be ashamed of. Something deserved. It's not.