No-one wants to be rejected by their friends and family. Being shunned at church, or not getting invited to family gatherings anymore. Stigma about HIV is based on old knowledge and ignorance. Whether that is people thinking that you can get HIV by sharing a cup with or hugging someone who is HIV positive, or thinking people living with HIV have done something bad, that’s all untrue.
Watch video on HIV myths.
Some people think anyone living with HIV is shameful, that they have done something bad and are being punished. Maybe you think that way, or used to. HIV has been linked to being ‘promiscuous’, to being a sex worker or drug user. That’s all wrong.
The truth is HIV is a condition that doesn’t make a judgement on who is good or bad or who needs to be ‘punished’. You wouldn’t say any other health condition is a punishment or a judgement. HIV is a long-term condition that can be treated well.
The stigma around HIV stops people testing because they don’t want to be rejected by the people they are closest to. The fear of being judged by them, of loved ones turning their backs on them stops them looking after their health.
Testing for HIV is you taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing, and making sure that you do the best you can to keep yourself as healthy as possible.
Being HIV positive and untreated can have major impacts upon you and your health.
Knowing your status and being on treatment keeps you healthy because HIV treatment stops the virus replicating and affecting your health. It brings the level of the virus in HIV positive people down to such a low level it can’t be detected in tests, and this also means that it can’t be passed on to your sexual partners.
Charity said: ‘I was diagnosed with HIV almost 20 years ago and have lived a healthy life ever since. It hasn’t always been easy but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved since being diagnosed and grateful for the friends I’ve made along the way. I speak publicly about living with HIV to show that all the rumours about HIV are false. I’m not sick. I am not dying. I will live a normal lifespan and the medication I take keeps me well and also means HIV can’t be passed on to partners. I am not “contagious” or a risk.
‘My faith has helped me come to terms with my diagnosis. But I don’t feel able to talk about HIV at my church and have heard stories of other churches not being very up-to-date on HIV. It would be so powerful to hear our faith leaders preaching about the progress that’s been made and playing an active role in saying “no, that isn’t right” about many of the horrible things people say about HIV. Because there will be people like me in many congregations. You can’t see our HIV status, but we are impacted by the stigma and the hurtful things people say.’
Sue said: ‘I thought HIV was a death sentence – but now I’ve been living with it for 18 years. The hardest person to break the news to was my daughter who I didn’t feel ready to tell until six years after my diagnosis. “Are you going to die, Mum?” was her first question. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but we got through it and we’re very close now. I’m a proud grandmother to my beautiful boy and live a healthy and fulfilling life. I take one pill a day and have full check-ups and blood tests twice a year. Otherwise I live normally. I have the annual flu jab and smear tests.
‘Too many people don’t know the truth about HIV. People think HIV positive people can't have children free from HIV which isn't true. Today, if you test positive, you go onto the medication straight away which keeps you healthy and will eventually make you undetectable, which means you can’t pass it on to anyone else.’
We know that new cases of HIV are driven by people who don’t know they are HIV positive. The more people who test, the more likely it is that we test people who do not know they are HIV positive.
You may not be in one of the communities that is more affected by HIV, but it’s still good to test to know your own status.
People can and do test positive for HIV while they are in what they believe to be monogamous relationships. This might be because someone has had sex with people outside the relationship, or maybe HIV has been passed on from a person that didn’t know their HIV status before they entered an exclusive relationship.
Being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t guarantee you will remain HIV negative. People make mistakes that may be difficult to talk about with their partner. Life happens, and we can do things to help ourselves like testing for HIV and getting onto treatment if you are HIV positive.
Help us try and fight the stigma around HIV. Find out what the truth is around people living with HIV and how it’s transmitted and share that information with family and friends and others in your communities. Someone living with HIV shouldn’t feel lost and alone, there is support out there from people who know what you may be experiencing, including the THT Direct helpline.
Everyone should test at least once in their lives. It’s sensible to test at the start of any new relationships you have.
If you have multiple partners in a year, whoever you sleep with, it’s recommended to test yearly, or better still every three months if you are man having sex with other men.
Testing is free, confidential and easy, whether you use a sexual health clinic, a GP or prefer the convenience of an ‘at home’ test kit.