It wasn’t the West or East German governments who broke down the Berlin Wall in November 1989; it was the German people… maybe it’s People Living with HIV who need to help break down the wall that encircles them: that invisible barrier that is the stigma of HIV and AIDS.
This time last week I was standing in a city of which half was completely surrounded by a twelve foot wall for almost thirty years. In 1989 the Berlin wall was torn down and in the same year the USA reported its 100,000th case of HIV, this figure was to double there by 1991. Today there are over 34 million people worldwide living with the virus.
Whilst much has changed since the late 80s for Berlin and Germany, many issues surrounding HIV and AIDS are still very much the same. Most people still perceive the virus to be something that won’t affect them, there is little public awareness about the virus, what it means for people who believe they are negative and for those who have received a positive diagnosis.
Unlike a physical object, such as a wall, some barriers are harder to destroy than others. The stigma associated with HIV won’t disappear out of hope or political change over time, action is needed to educate and inform people globally about the true facts of the virus, AIDS, and how transmission occurs: how to protect yourself and reduce the risk of passing HIV and the importance of regular testing.
Whilst in Berlin I saw a poster campaign raising awareness about HIV with just the sort of strong message that we need to collectively deliver to today’s society. This quote in particular really defines what is necessary to instigate change:
“I have HIV and a strong voice at my side… Do I have yours?”
I am a strong believer that by being open about your HIV status you are helping to break down the stigma associated with the virus, but this is only possible if you have the support of others by your side. Most importantly your friends and family but also the assistance of your nurses and consultants, counsellors and support group workers.
I applaud anyone who has or is considering being open about their HIV status, and for those who aren’t in a position to I know we will all make sure our voice is loud enough to make a difference for you too.
World AIDS Day is about raising awareness but also remembering those we have lost in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and it’s for those people that we must continue to stand up to discrimination and prejudice.
‘Getting to Zero’ isn’t just about zero new infections, it’s about zero tolerance for people who believe it is right to be able to persecute someone because they live with a virus, it’s about zero discrimination, people living with HIV already live with the virus, the medication, the consultant appointments… …we shouldn’t have to live with societies stigma either.