AIDS will not be defeated if the stigma of people living with HIV continues, Melbourne-based HIV researcher, Dr Susan Paxton has said on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2014.
Dr Susan Paxton was diagnosed with the virus 25 years ago. For her, the scariest thing wasn’t just the thought of facing death; it was also the thought of her mother or friends finding out that she’d been diagnosed with the virus.
“When I was diagnosed, I was terrified at the thought of what people would think of me. There’s still a huge level of stigma around HIV,” Dr Paxton said.
Dr Paxton was a representative for the International Community of Women Living with HIV at AIDS 2014 in Melbourne earlier in June.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a heterosexual women or a gay man, or what echelon of society you come from – the stigma of HIV is an overwhelming issue,” Dr Paxton said.
Globally, women represent well-over half of the population living with HIV. In Australia, less than 20 per cent of people living with HIV are women.
Dr Paxton believes stigma is keeping HIV from becoming a chronically manageable condition.
“I’ve heard stories from Africa where young pregnant women are throwing their antiretroviral medicine straight into the rubbish bin because they’re too afraid to tell their families they have been diagnosed with HIV,” Dr Paxton added.
Dr Paxton believes that we can defeat the stigma of HIV at the point-of-diagnosis.
“It will go a long way if we had mothers already positively-living with HIV, who are well-trained and placed in every antenatal clinic in areas that have high HIV infection rates, guide them through the process of telling their families and friends and how to live positively with the virus,” she added.
HIV has claimed more than 36 million lives worldwide.
“In 20 years, there could be great advancements in science, but unless we deal with the social stigma surrounding HIV, we’re not going to capitalise on these advancements,” she said.
Dr Paxton is also an ENUF Ambassador, an advocacy campaign that aims to stamp out the stigma of HIV: www.enuf.org.au.
Global Health Campaigns Manager Sarah Kirk, from grassroots health and anti-poverty organisation RESULTS International (Australia), believes that breaking down the stigma barrier will help defeat the virus.
“Stigma is the reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate countries across the world. But there is a cure for this – positivity,” Sarah said.
Source: RESULTS International (Australia) and www.enuf.org.au