We must listen to science, not stigma.

Terrence Higgins Trust is the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, offering support, information and advice services for those living with HIV and affected by HIV or poor sexual health.

Their vision is a world where people with HIV live healthy lives free from prejudice and discrimination, and good sexual health is a right and reality for all.

Before I start with the Terrence Higgins Trust I’d just like to say that I feel as though this year in particular for those living with HIV, HIV activists, campaigners and ally’s has indeed been positively huge so far!

We have seen huge campaigns come our way such as Bruce Richman’s #UequalsU campaign which resulted in multiple charities and projects signing the #UequalsU consensus statement from PreventionAccess.org which will hopefully result in what would be a well-known term for those living with HIV who are consistently on treatment with an undetectable viral load. I personally believe that it’s these daring, strong and straight- to-the point messages we are signalling out to the general public are not only important but have the potential to be so effective if we push these campaigns to their highest potential. I’m not sure if Bruce’s intention was to have people using #UequalsU as an adjective for themselves on top of sending out that all important ‘Undetectable = Untransmittible’ message. Either way, I think it’s great that individuals are now referring to themselves as #UequalsU!

Not only have we had #UequalsU making its mark here in the UK, we are about to see 10,000 high-risk individuals receive PrEP for an all new PrEP trial funded by the NHS. Where most would say (including myself) that nothing will be good enough until we have a full roll-out, I believe this is a step in the right direction. We are also delighted to see that IWantPrEPNow is getting so much attention for those wishing to purchase PrEP than wait around for the NHS. Did I mention the 40% decrease in new HIV infections in the last year? Send your thanks over to Greg Owen!
Alongside this we are also starting to see more creative projects to support those living with HIV and those who want to protect the HIV community. Our project at Destigmatize centres on educating people socially to eradicate stigma but we are also about bringing people together. We’re about reaching out to those struggling with their diagnosis and making them aware that they have a friend in us, somebody to talk to and more importantly, a message to say that not all of us are uneducated and we want to help!
There are some other great projects that have been evolving over this last year too such as Porn4PrEP, Prepster, The Positive Project and so many more!

Now on to THT! I received the press release for their new Can’t Pass It On campaign last week and I can’t express how excited I am to see this play out! The name of the campaign pretty much says it all ‘Can’t Pass It On’ but unfortunately, as said in their press release;
‘Only 1 in 4 gay men know that people on effective treatment can’t pass it on’ – shocking! This also begs the question; would there be stigma if every single person we knew was educated about what HIV really is in 2017? This is where we come in!

Here are some facts THT sent over to use that we can all use!

  • HIV is a virus which attacks the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight diseases.
  • An estimated 101,000 people are living with HIV in the UK and 6,000 people are diagnosed every year. Of these, one in seven are undiagnosed and do not know about their HIV infection.
  • HIV treatment lowers the amount of virus in the blood to undetectable levels which stops it from damaging the immune system, and means the virus cannot be passed on to other people.
  • There is still a great deal of stigma about HIV. Stigma is damaging as it prevents people from getting tested, from accessing treatment and from living a happy and healthy life.
  • The most common way HIV is transmitted is through sex without a condom.
  • You cannot get HIV through casual or day-to-day contact, or kissing, spitting or sharing a cup, plate or toilet seat.

Whether you feel HIV affects you in your day-to-day life or not, let’s just for a moment think about what we could do for somebody living with HIV if we just did the simple thing and educated people for a couple of minutes. Let’s make bold and factual statement’s and promote this campaign to the best of our ability! #UequalsU proved that such campaigns can bring other charities and projects together, so let’s do try and make a conscious effort to do the same for ‘Can’t Pass It On’.

One of our writers, Dominic Bilton has composed a write up on the new campaign which you can read below but before I wrap this up I would like to send a huge congratulations to the Terrence Higgins Trust for creating this amazing campaign and we will be supporting and promoting ‘Can’t Pass It On’ for the foreseeable future.
On a side note, I would love to see other HIV charities also show their support and promote this campaign as I believe this has huge potential to truly make a difference.

– Junior Maxwell

Alex Causton-Ronaldson, 26, from Brighton, was diagnosed with HIV in 2014. He said: “Now I know my HIV status, it’s a weight off my shoulders because I am on treatment, so I can’t pass it on. I’m healthy and well, and I can have relationships. But the number one problem with living with HIV is the stigma. People aren’t aware of the latest medical knowledge and they treat you as though you’re a risk to them. They don’t realise the effect this has on your self esteem. “You hear about people who are too scared to get tested, because of the stigma that’s attached to HIV. People are then diagnosed far too late. Stigma can be a killer.”

We must listen to science, not stigma.

 

When I started doing my degree and writing essays, my tutors would constantly say that I needed to back up my statements with credible evidence to give my argument weight. This would help me in arguing my point and would go towards being able to convince people that the point I was trying to make, was a valid one. I would spend hours reading over and looking at my work to see if I needed to reference my work further and whether I had referenced my essay enough to give it credible weight. 

 

Imagine then, if the medical community had released an official statement confirming results from trials that they hadbeen carrying out, and those results were irrefutable, imagine what a vital source of reference that would be to use in essays in order to back up arguments. 

 

One such piece of medical evidence that is backing up the argument of charities, such as the Terrance Higgins Trust, fortheir national campaign ‘Can’t pass it on’, are the medical reports such as the PARTNER study by Alison J. Rodger released in the medical journal, The Jama Network. The Report is snappily titled ‘Sexual activity without condoms and risk of HIV transmission in serodifferent couples when the HIV-Positive partner is using suppressive antiretroviral therapy’. The journal article contains lots of statistics about the studies carried out and has various medical terms and graphs explaining and supporting the findings that all lead to support its conclusion. The conclusion that states that ‘Among serodifferent heterosexual and MSM couples in which the HIV-positive partner was using suppressive ART and who reported condom-less sex, there were no documented cases of within- couple HIV transmission’. The report supports the medical community’s long held assumptions that people with ‘undetectable’ viral loads are un-transmittable, meaning that they cannot pass on the virus.

 

The Terrance Higgins Trust is supported in their campaign by Dr Christian Jessen who states that ‘Scientific evidence shows that people on effective treatment for HIV are not infectious, this is an extraordinary breakthrough that hasn’t as yet filtered down to the public’.  The Can’t Pass It On campaign by the Trust is hoped that by getting the message across to the public, that once on effective antiretroviral treatment with an undetectable viral load, HIV is un-transmittable and it meansyou cannot catch it.

However, a recent YouGov survey which asked 2,022 people questions about their knowledge on HIV was recently carried out and included people of all sexualities. The findings make for uncomfortable reading. The results show the need for charities and organisations to push forward the message about the effects to counter act the stigma that people still have around HIV. The YouGov report stated that only 1 in 4 gay people were aware that effective HIV treatment meant that HIV could not be passed on. This is an incredibly high figure of people, particularly in a community that has been dominated by HIV since the 1980’s, not to know the facts about the disease. It shows how incredibly important the work of charities and organisations are in educating people about the facts to counter act the stigma around the disease. Stigma comes from a lack of knowledge of education about something and I hope that this blog article will go towards helping to get the message across and help any further YouGov reports that

‘We must listen to science, not stigma’.

– Dominic Bilton

What do you have to say? Get involved! http://tht.org.uk/cantpassiton