Discrimination is described as ‘choosing to treat someone badly or unfairly because of a characteristic that is perceived as different or unwanted’. The HIV virus is ‘different and unwanted’ therefore society often discriminates against individuals living with the virus. The public at large still perceives HIV as terrifying and infectious, immediately questioning ‘What is the risk to me?’ Having limited knowledge based around myths and misconceptions, their best strategy is often complete avoidance of individuals living with HIV.
But let’s get the facts straight. Today, HIV is recognised as a chronic illness which can be managed with antiretroviral medication. This medication significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission to almost zero, by reducing the HIV virus in the body. HIV-positive people who know their HIV status can take steps towards managing their health and prevent onward transmission. They are not a “risk” to others. They are capable of working, having relationships, having sex, having families and have a life expectancy identical to that of the HIV-negative population.
To draw your attention to the issue of HIV related discrimination I want to introduce you to the wonderful work of the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC). Over the years I have worked with a number of clients who I have referred directly to HALC, other community legal organisations or the Equal Opportunity Commission in WA. Why? Because HIV-positive people often face unfair dismissal at work, unwanted HIV disclosure in a medical setting, domestic violence, marginalisation and migration challenges, just to name a few.
HALC is only 50 per cent funded by the government. The remaining 50 per cent is sourced from the good will of the community. HALC’s current fundraising campaign is ‘45 days, 45 lives’ whereby each day explores the life of a different HIV-positive person in Australia and their challenges tackling discrimination. It’s an enlightening read of the struggles PLHIV face and I would strongly invite you to check it out.
In an ideal world HIV-positive people wouldn’t face discrimination, but we have much work to do and education to get out there into the broader community. Campaigns such as ENUF and the Stigma Project have begun to challenge people’s perspectives, but the reality is we still desperately need the services of organisations such as HALC.
So I encourage you to be understanding of the difficulties HIV-positive people face due to HIV related stigma and discrimination. Do your part and help educate people about the facts on HIV in 2015 with these fun and informative BuzzFeed GIFs. You can also support the HALC campaign here