In a couple of hours it will be December 1st 2011. World AIDS Day. My FIRST World AIDS Day.
Well, that’s not entirely true now is it? I’ve been on this planet for 26 years, and the first ever World AIDS Day was held in 1987 – which means this is the 24th World AIDS Day, but what I mean to say is this is the first time I’ve ever paid attention, the first time I’ve felt it was ever relevant to me.
You see in July 2011, only 4 and a bit months ago I found out I was HIV+. Something I’d never even dreamed would happen to me. So the last 8 World AIDS Days of my adulthood have somewhat passed me by, just another one of those irrelevant international (speak like a pirate, wear a moustache, typhoid awareness) days. But here I am, 26 years of age and HIV+ and World AIDS Day has a whole new meaning to me.
I’ve spent a lot of time being brutally frank and honest with myself lately, due to both my own feelings and the reactions of other around me (both welcome and unwelcome) and let me assure you that I’m under no illusion that I’ve no-one to blame but myself for being in this predicament. I was never the most careful person when it came to sex (how times have changed), but nor was I particularly reckless – I guess I’d call myself unlucky.
One thing that has become abundantly apparent to me in this process however is how little that the general public (even high risk groups such as gay men) know about HIV, and I sadly include myself in that until recently. This concerns me in two different ways:
- People don’t know/understand the risks. People engage in risky sexual behaviour with perfect strangers with only their word as to their HIV status. Even if the person fully believes that they are indeed HIV negative this is only as good as their last test (which may have been quite some time ago). The only person who truly knows their HIV status is someone who is HIV+.
- The lack of understanding about how the virus works, how it’s transferred and what it is to live with HIV feeds a damaging stigma surrounding HIV and those living with it. I’ve nearly been driven as far as suicide in recent weeks by the extreme negative reactions of some of those around me. I feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder for the next bad reaction.
There’s a lot of work to be done, an overwhelming amount in fact. There needs to be more information in schools, colleges, universities, in bars and in clubs, more discussion on television and wider reaching campaigns on the net. It’s obvious to me that this information needs to be of a higher quality too, targeted for the groups it’s intended to reach, when I was diagnosed I was passed an information pack, the two case studies were of a 30yo married straight man, and a 50yo lesbian – neither of which I could remotely relate to.
It’s also important that these campaigns and informative materials do not preach, people will always engage in unprotected sex as long as the Earth keeps turning, what we need to do is educate people of the risks to enable them to make an informed decision about when they feel comfortable and confident engaging in unprotected sex with a partner as well as feeling confident and secure in saying “no. But if you preach you will turn people off your message – it’s as simple as that.
So what we need are information packs and campaigns that target specific groups with information relevant to them in a manner that doesn’t patronise, preach or scare. Only then will we reduce the fear and uncertainty around HIV and with it the stigma.
I’m going to use my first World AIDS Day to spread this message, what are you going to do?