WE'RE CALLING ON KIWIS TO END HIV STIGMA
HIV treatments have come a long way over the last 30 years, but unfortunately, sometimes it seems that attitudes in New Zealand have not.
“How about stop spreading disease like filthy vermin?”
“Here’s an easy solution – don’t be f**ing gay.”
“HIV is just natural selection.”
“That’s what you get for pooftering. You knew the risks and chose to ignore them. Live with it.”
These are real comments that we have received from real New Zealanders on our Facebook pages during a recent campaign – which ironically was aimed at reducing HIV stigma.
People living with HIV still have to deal with outdated perceptions from people who haven’t caught up with the developments in HIV treatments. A recent survey showed that today, in 2018, 42% of New Zealanders aren’t comfortable having their food prepared by someone living with HIV.
So when we say that stigma is the biggest issue facing people living with HIV, we aren’t exaggerating. Here are some facts that we want everyone to know:
- Firstly, although gay and bi guys are most at risk of getting HIV in New Zealand, HIV can affect anyone, no matter their gender, sexuality, age or ethnicity. HIV is not a ‘gay disease’.
- Today’s medications can suppress the virus to extremely low levels, usually to the point where life expectancy is the same as an HIV negative person’s – and to a point where the virus cannot be passed on via sex.
- Stigma is not only damaging, but actually fuels the spread of HIV – because if people are scared of being diagnosed with HIV, they’re much less likely to get tested. And undiagnosed HIV is the main way that the virus is spread!
We are sure that if you’re reading this, you’ll find the comments above as offensive, outrageous and upsetting as we do. Fear, stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV have been going on for far too long. We need your help to put a stop to it once and for all.
How can you help?
There are many ways to helps us end the harmful stigma around HIV, and we need more people out there standing up to sigma and contributing to a world that's more supportive of people living with and at risk of HIV. If everyone who reads this starts with some of the below, we'll be well on our way.
- Educate yourself about the HIV - HIV can only be transmitted in a few, very specific ways. You cannot contract HIV from sharing a living space with, eating food prepared by or making out with someone living with HIV. Knowing how HIV works, and more importantly how it doesn't, means there are more people out there not spreading myths about HIV.
- Tell others what you've learned - Stigma is largely perpetuated by unnecessary fear of transmission that stems from misunderstanding - educating ourselves and others is one of the biggest steps toward ending HIV stigma.
- Spread U=U, not stigma - Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) is a movement that shares the knowledge that for people living with HIV, who are on successful treatment and reach an undetectable viral load, HIV is not transmitted sexually. U=U is an empowering message for those living with HIV and an anti-stigma message for those who are HIV-negative.
- Cut out the "AIDS" jokes - AIDS is not the same thing as HIV, it is the syndrome that can develop when HIV compromises someone's immune system to the point where it cannot fight off opportunistic infections and cancers... which isn't super funny now, is it? Seemingly little things like making a joke out of a serious health condition can have a huge harmful impact and stop people seeking help, especially when most people living with HIV who have access to treatment will never develop AIDS.
- Call it out - There are a lot of pervasive forms of bigotry in our society that have become so casual the perpetrators probably don't even notice they do it anymore. It's time to call it out for what it is - hate. Statements like the ones at the top of this page are all too common, and these are just the ones who are brazen enough to say it online - there are many more who drop these bombs casually in conversation and expect to go unchallenged. Let's be a part of changing that! If you do see it on social media, hit that report button and if it comes up in conversation, be brave and challenge them.
- No one "deserves" to have HIV – don’t let anyone say so - This is a nasty one we see a lot. No one deserves to contract HIV because of their sexuality or behaviour, let's cut this one off right at the bud. Stop it and don’t let anyone else say so unchallenged.
- Support people who share their status - if someone shares their HIV status with you, listen to them and take time to understand what it means with them - especially if they've only just found out themselves. So often people who receive a positive result have a bad interaction the first time they disclose, which can cause harmful internalised stigma to take root and cause people to withdraw from social settings and sometimes even healthcare.