To mark World Aids Day 2008, the National Aids Trust has mounted a campaign to combat the prejudice surrounding HIV and also to raise awareness of HIV transmission. The campaign, Respect & Protect, has its own dedicated website. The mission statement is that the campaign “is inclusive and highlights the responsibility everyone has to transform attitudes to HIV and encourage actions that stop its spread.”
Prejudice results in everyday problems for those living with HIV that are not related to their HIV status. Difficulties at work, rejection by family and friends, violence: these too often result from the perception of HIV as portrayed in the media, and from fear resulting from ignorance about how HIV is passed on as well as an unfounded fear of becoming infected.
“One thing that hasn’t changed in the years since the first World AIDS Day is that stigma, fear and misconceptions about HIV still fuel the virus,” said Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT. “The stigma people living with HIV face everyday, the fear that stops people getting a test or the misconceptions about what it means to live with HIV in 2008, are all challenges that remain. That is why the theme for World AIDS Day is Respect & Protect. It sets out the role everyone has to play in tackling HIV today. From protecting yourself and your partners by always practising safer sex to always treating people living with HIV fairly, respecting their confidentiality and challenging prejudice wherever it occurs.”
“Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action,” the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, wrote in July 2008. “It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world”.
To combat this, NAT is calling for education in schools to teach a new generation about HIV as well as social issues such as stigma and discrimination: Public Understanding. The organization is also calling for an end to sensationalist reporting in the media, and has produced a clear set of guidelines to facilitate this: Media Best Practices
The Respect & Protect Campaign is designed to also highlight the findings of the latest research. 70 and 90 per cent of those who acquire HIV may experience symptoms of infection a few days after having been infected. Three symptoms occurring together: fever, rash and a severe sore throat should always be considered a potential indicator of HIV infection. These symptoms usually disappear within two or three weeks. It is also now possible to test for the HIV antibody within 12 days. The sooner the detection the sooner treatment can begin.
There are now 33 million people living with HIV worldwide. In 2007, 7,740 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK, the highest in any single year. In Australia this number was 983. It is estimated that around 56,300 Americans acquired HIV in 2006. This is only going to change through education, awareness, and the support of governments around the world.