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HIV: Misinformation and discrimination

THT's survey aims to help dismantle the myths surrounding HIV


As World AIDS Day approaches, the Terrence Higgins Trust has published the results of a survey to help bust the myths around the disease and educate people better on what living with HIV and AIDS is actually like.

The charity asked over 500 hundred people living with HIV to gauge what they felt the public’s knowledge of AIDS and HIV was like. Six out of ten people who took the survey stated that they felt that non-sufferer’s understanding of the condition was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. The survey also discovered that nine out of ten people with HIV and AIDS would say that more people should know about the disease.

The survey also asked sufferers to state some of their most frequently heard myths about suffering from the disease and a list was drawn up of the top six myths that persist around the virus:

1. HIV and AIDS are the same thing (63%)
2. An HIV diagnosis is a death sentence (52%)
3. Someone with HIV still can’t access key financial products, like mortgages or life insurance (51%)
4. Someone with HIV can’t/shouldn’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t have HIV (47%)
5. HIV is only an issue for gay men (45%)
6. There is a cure or vaccine for HIV (37%)

The level of misinformation out there is shocking and many living with the virus noted that they felt unable to tell people of their condition for fear of negative responses due to people’s ignorance.

In order to combat this culture of misinformation and tell people the facts the THT is encouraging people to visit tht.org.uk/askme. The website invites users to click on one of the key myths around AIDS to learn more about that particular myth and why it is incorrect. After reading this themselves, the website suggests sharing the information on social media so that family, friends and colleagues can learn more too.

Lisa Power, Policy Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, noted how serious an issue these myths can become if they are not corrected: “It’s worrying that we have one part of the public who are stuck in the 1980s when HIV would kill you, and another who have flashed forward to a cure that doesn’t exist yet. We can’t blame people for being confused; the
last national awareness campaign in this country was over 25 years ago. However, ignorance of the facts can make life tremendously difficult for those living with the virus. It’s also a shortcut to getting infected yourself.”

The survey also asked people with HIV and AIDS to recount some of the strangest responses they’ve had after
informing family and friends of their HIV status. The answers can be considered amusing, but also serve to highlight how uninformed people can be.

Terrence Higgins Trust asked people with HIV the oddest response they’d encountered when telling someone else their status. Responses included:

· “It’s really cool that you know how you’re going to die.”
· "Does the treatment make you lose your hair?”
· “Oh my God! No wonder you’re so skinny!”
· “Oh, there’s a pill to get rid of that now.”
· “That’s impossible – you don’t look like you could have it.”
· “You should keep your head down.”
· “What’s that then?”
· “You? That’s weird – you’re nearly celibate!”
· “I can’t believe you’re allowed to be a hairdresser.”
· “But you get that through sex!!! (My mother)”

With European HIV Testing week still ongoing, taking the time to educate yourself and your loved ones has never been more important.

For more information on the AIDS, HIV and the work of the Terrence Higgins Trust, visit their website at THT.org.uk. To find out more about European HIV Testing week and how you can get tested, visit hivtestingweek.eu.

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