HIV has changed, or, rather, what it means has changed. Once it was a devastating life-limiting diagnosis, but advancements in treatment and care today mean that, with the help of effective treatment, someone living with HIV is predicted to have a near normal life expectancy. Nowadays, people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass on the virus through sex.
That said, while HIV is patently not the condition it was since it was discovered over forty years ago, the stigma attached to it adds a threat to the health and wellbeing of many people living with HIV. This stigma needs to be addressed to allow people living with HIV to live a happy and fulfilled life, without shame or fear of judgment.
HIV stigma has a profound impact on women, particularly adolescent girls and young women, who experience the greatest burden of HIV, with around 4,900 young women aged 15-24 years of age acquiring HIV weekly. [source]
The HIV in View anti-stigma campaign launched by ViiV Healthcare aims to change the way the world views HIV, working with inspiring individuals living with HIV and Shutterstock Studios to make empowering images available to the public, showing the authentic lives of those living with HIV today.
The collaboration was launched on World AIDS Day in 2020, and now the ‘HIV in View’ gallery has expanded to include photoshoots of people living with HIV in the UK, Portugal, Kenya, US, Canada, Russia, and Taiwan. The photo gallery depicts how much things have changed for many people living with HIV and helps to address stigma alongside international campaigns such as U = U (aka undetectable equals untransmittable, so effective antiretroviral therapies mean they can’t transmit the virus to their sexual partners) helping to raise awareness.
Presenting an updated view of what living with HIV means today includes opening up the conversation to dispel misconceptions - something which two women who’ve played a part in the HIV in View campaign have been doing.
Silvia Petretti, CEO of Positively UK, HIV advocate, and a woman living with HIV. Silvia is keen to emphasise how much her gender affects her experience of the virus: “I am not just a person living with HIV but a woman living with HIV, which means I can experience stigma unique to all other women like me. For example, women living with HIV are much more likely to experience intimate partner violence, both as a cause and as a consequence of our HIV diagnosis. HIV can affect anyone, regardless of race, gender identity or sexuality, but the experiences of people living with HIV may certainly be shaped by those structural factors, particularly for people from marginalised groups who face discrimination based on their HIV status. To see true progress in HIV, we need to address this stigma head-on at an intersectional level and make sure that people living with HIV feel heard, whatever their background.”
Also involved in tackling HIV stigma is Dr Nneka Nwokolo, Head of Global Patient Affairs in Europe and North America at ViiV Healthcare - and an Honorary Consultant Physician in Sexual Health and HIV Medicine. Dr Nwokolo has been active in efforts to provide workplace support for those experiencing menopause, helping to set up a Menopause Support Group with GSK colleagues.
Dr Nwokolo similarly is passionate about highlighting the experience of those, and especially women, living with HIV: “There is a common misconception that HIV is something that only affects gay men, when in fact women and girls make up more than half of people living with HIV worldwide. We are making progress in our efforts to accelerate the HIV response, but today millions of lives are in danger with inequalities widening and resources for HIV shrinking.”
She believes that tackling misconceptions is crucial to change the experience, and outcome, for those with HIV: “If we want to achieve the goals set for 2030 by UNAIDS, it is critical that we address the complex challenges affecting people living with and affected by HIV, and ensure that they are placed at the heart of efforts to make HIV a smaller part of people’s lives and, through campaigns like HIV in View, raise the voices of people living with HIV and eliminate the pervasive stigma that so many still face every day.”
Jointly, along with the Shutterstock ‘HIV in View’ gallery, the campaign aims to challenge negative perceptions about HIV by showing the experiences of the HIV community, and by sharing their stories. More recently, the In Conversation video series was developed to expand on those stories and to show more of an honest conversation around living with HIV, including the impact of language, disparities for transgender people living with HIV, and the need for an inclusive approach to HIV care.
ViiV Healthcare’s hope is to inspire women living with HIV to have the confidence to discuss issues they have with their healthcare professionals, and to feel empowered to speak out, ensuring that they are present and heard as part of the decisions that shape their health, and their life.
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