…but no one should die of ignorance.” Elizabeth Taylor
I’m writing this fairly late because as per my Wednesday routine I went swimming, except my boyfriend is working away so not only did I complete 1500m in the pool, I also had to walk two miles there and back again! I’m now pretty wired, probably from eating too late and a coffee I shouldn’t have drunk at 6pm.
I was prompted to start this post by reading this article earlier this evening; I was shocked not at the rise in HIV in Russia but the route of transmission, the fact that it was via dirty needles through drug use. As we approach World AIDS Day the media write more articles about HIV and global news about the virus reaches us in larger volumes. It’s easy for me to forget sometimes how lucky I am in the UK. We like to complain and moan about the NHS but I would be a lot worse off if it wasn’t here. I am lucky to live in country that provides my HIV medication at no expense to myself, I am lucky to be able to routinely see a consultant within a mile of where I live and I’m lucky there is a varied and diverse network of charities and organisations championing our cause and that they are able to speak about HIV openly and freely.
I worry about countries like Russia where a crackdown on ‘gay propaganda’ is taking place. I’m concerned it means educating gay men about HIV might become more difficult. Whilst for the moment it appears that men who have sex with men are only accountable for 1% of new cases this could easily increase: especially if laws such as the one in St. Petersburg spread across the country. In the same way that Section 28 probably scared teachers during my school years from talking about gay and lesbian relationships Russia could witness thousands of young gay men and women growing up with inadequate sex and relationship education.
In the same way that I was ignorant to numbers of people in the world becoming infected by dirty needles there are other generalisations and assumptions that I have made that I have now found to be inaccurate regarding HIV. I had always presumed that due to the large percentage of people living with HIV in South Africa that they wouldn’t have to suffer the same ‘Western’ problems associated with HIV such as the stigma and ignorance of the illness. After recently meeting two women from South Africa through an on-going project I am working on I have found that this is not the case. There is still stigma within their communities, those living with HIV are still frowned upon and they suffer the same anxieties as I have, whether to disclose to family and friends, battling with GPs and Doctors when feeling under the weather and worrying about what life with the virus might be like.
I hope that on World AIDS Day we not only help to educate people about HIV, raise awareness about HIV testing and reduce stigma and fear. I hope that those living with the virus in the UK remember how lucky we are to live in a society with free health care, access to medication and access to support networks and that we can have our voice heard without fear of government oppression or reprisal.