HIV myths continue to fuel stigma

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Friday 4th May 2018

A new survey has found that despite advances in HIV treatment and prevention, public knowledge continues to include many myths and misconceptions that contribute to the ongoing stigma faced by people living with HIV.

As the national HIV policy organisation for Scotland, we believe that this demonstrates the need for a coordinated approach to tackle HIV-related stigma if we are to seriously reduce ongoing HIV transmissions.

The Our Voice Citizen’s Panel Survey showed:
• Only 27% of people would be comfortable starting a relationship with someone who is living with HIV;
• 21% of people continue to believe that HIV can be passed on from kissing, whilst 5% believe it can be passed on through sharing a glass, cup or cutlery;
• Only 17% of people were aware that PrEP, a pill you can take daily that prevents HIV transmission, exists;
• Just 14% of people were aware that people living with HIV taking effective treatment cannot pass it on to their sexual partners.

Success towards eliminating HIV-related stigma requires efforts to educate and inform the general public, whilst empowering, mobilising and engaging with people living with and at risk of HIV to ensure their voice can be heard.

HIV disproportionately affects some of the most stigmatised groups in society, including gay and bisexual men, trans-people, the African community, sex workers and people who inject drugs.

Niamh, a trans-woman living with HIV in Glasgow said: “As a person living with HIV, the stigma I’ve experienced is grounded in myths and untruths. As a result I’ve given up dating as it’s simply too much to bear. I don’t believe we should live in a society where people like me find it too difficult to date because of the misinformation that exists.

“Stigma in all its forms, from media to health professionals to the person on the street comes from a lack of knowledge and education. The need for this to change is long overdue.”

George Valiotis, CEO of HIV Scotland said: “It is dangerous that myths and out-dated information remain so widespread. Their prevalence misleads and misinforms people of the 21st century reality of HIV, and devastates relationships and lives.”

“It is time that everyone knows that HIV cannot be passed on via saliva, kissing or sharing cutlery.

“HIV Scotland produced a national strategy, The Road Map to Zero, which sets out the approach needed to tackle the myths surrounding HIV, which includes action on education in schools.

“We’ll continue to advocate getting education right for young people regarding HIV & sexual health, whilst recognising that more needs to be done to inform the general public about the modern day realities of the virus.”

Read the full findings from the Our Voice Citizen's Panel survey on HIV awareness, mental health and wellbeing and inclusive community in the Fourth Survey Report by visiting www.ourvoice.scot/citizens-panel