On 1st December 2017, we mark the 29th World AIDS Day. It is a day to pause and remember the estimated 35 million people who have died globally from AIDS-related illnesses, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on the important work being carried out both here in Scotland, and across the world, to reduce the number of new infections and ensure that people living with HIV are able to have a healthy, stigma-free life.
With the support of organisations such as HIV Scotland, providing advice and assistance not just to individuals and their families but also to our health services, it is possible that in the not-too-distant future we will reach a point where there are zero new infections. In order to reach this point, we must all work together to eradicate the stigma and prejudice associated with HIV.
HIV-related stigma remains one of the biggest barriers to testing, treatment and support, and it is only through collective effort to overcome this stigma that we can achieve the targets being set to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030.
It is estimated that 13% of people living with HIV in Scotland are unaware of their status, with evidence suggesting that a fear of a positive HIV diagnosis stops individuals from getting tested and engaging with health services. This fear of stigma and discrimination is a key contributing factor to poor health outcomes for people living with or affected by HIV. Indeed, research suggests that fear of being perceived as having HIV, being promiscuous, or simply being a member of a community known to be associated with HIV discourages people from people from seeking information and resources, as well as making them less likely to be tested for HIV.
By improving our understanding of stigma and by identifying the factors that can impact on stigma, such as social exclusion, inequality, discrimination and criminalisation of certain groups associated with HIV transmission, we can improve and accelerate efforts to address the challenges of HIV in Scotland.
That is why, this World AIDS Day, I am committing to do more to help challenge the stigma that persists around our understanding of HIV.
One way to do this is simply to be more aware of the facts. For instance, people living with HIV, on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on and we can all do to more to raise the importance of #ScienceNotStigma. By understanding more about the realities of living with HIV, we can also have greater confidence in challenging the negative stereotypes that persist in some elements of the media coverage of HIV, while opening up space for people to access support and advice.
There is no singular experience of HIV-related stigma and work must continue to be done to address the inequalities that deepen social divides based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and culture.
To find out more about what you can do to help tackle HIV stigma and prejudice, visit www.zerohivstigma.scot.