Half of HIV positive people face discrimination – poll

Half of people who are HIV positive have faced discrimination, a new poll suggests.

Sexual health charity the Terrance Higgins Trust (THT) called for an end to the stigma faced by people living with the virus.

A new survey of 1,350 people with HIV conducted by the charity, released to mark the 30th World Aids Day, found 50% of people said they had experienced discrimination because of their HIV status.

It also found fear of discrimination made 59% of those polled feel unable to talk openly at work about living with HIV.

It comes after Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle announced that he is HIV positive during an emotional speech in the House of Commons.

The Brighton Kemptown MP is the second ever MP to openly disclose he is living with the virus.

He told the Press Association that there were “low level elements of stigma [surrounding HIV] in every day life”.

The new survey found that many people with the virus said they had faced stigma across a number of settings.

THT said that this is despite the medical progress over the last 30 years which means that people with the virus can live a long and healthy life.

And effective treatment means that the amount of virus in the body can be shrunk to undetectable levels – which stops the damage the virus can cause to the body and means the virus cannot be passed on to anyone else.

The charity said that misinformation around HIV still causes stigma, which impacts many people living with HIV.

  • Over half of people living with HIV (54%) had experienced HIV discrimination in dating and relationships.

  • One third (34%) had faced discrimination while accessing health care services.

  • Three in 10 (30%) had experienced HIV discrimination at work.

  • More than a quarter (27%) had experienced discrimination from friends.

  • 18% had experienced HIV discrimination from family members.

  • Just over a fifth (21%) had experienced HIV discrimination in their local community.

The charity has launched its Zero HIV campaign to mark World Aids day, with the aim of ending new cases of HIV and eliminating stigma surrounding the illness.

“We now have the tools to end HIV transmission here in the UK – a combination of regular testing, PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis medication], condoms and treatment as prevention – and it’s vital we continue to ensure people are aware of those tools, know how and are able to access them,” said THT chief executive Ian Green.

“However, as ending HIV transmissions in the UK becomes a reality, we must support those living with the virus to thrive, and end the stigma they face. We must not just focus our efforts on reaching zero transmissions, but also zero stigma.

“The results from our polling are extremely saddening.

“This World Aids Day, as we mark 30 years since the first, we will remember the many loved ones we’ve lost.

“We will celebrate the progress we’ve made in their memory, and we will stand shoulder to shoulder and continue to work together with one another to hit zero HIV transmissions and zero HIV stigma for good.”

In an interview with the Press Association, Mr Russell-Moyle discussed ending HIV transmissions.

He said: “The power is in our hands, we have the science.

“It is one of the scientific miracles or medical miracles that we have achieved in the last 20 years.

“People talk about the abolition of polio as a disease – we could do something as miraculous as that for HIV, we really could but we could only do it if we put those resources in.”

On the stigma surrounding HIV, Mr Russell-Moyle added: “Of course there are low level elements of stigma in every day life, in terms of just lack of knowledge, people reacting with guttural reaction.

“Those 1980s campaigns play heavy in a lot of people’s minds that this is some sort of death sentence, and so immediately you are facing a wall of hatred but it’s a wall of fear and worry.

“There is some legal discrimination that still exists, for example if you are a pilot you can’t get a full pilot’s licence to fly a plane in this country.

“There is also the discrimination around how sexual partners might view you and do view you and how employees view you.”

He added: “In some ways I’m incredibly lucky, I’m a white gay man in a very liberal open city, and so out of all of the groups of people I will probably fair one of the better.

“If you are not in that same category, if you live in a rural area, if you find it difficult to access services, if you are black or older or a woman then those things mean your stigma is much higher so it’s much harder to talk about it. Talking about that is really important.”