Tag Archives: gay

UK Government to consider study to allow gay, monogamous couples to donate blood

blood_vial

The British Government is considering whether to conduct a study into whether gay or bisexual men in monogamous, same-sex relationships should still have to wait 12 months after having sex to donate blood.

Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year calling for the gay blood ban to be removed.

Just before Christmas, Mr Fabricant met with Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, and members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues, and Organs (SaBTO), to discuss the possibility of a study into whether men in monogamous, same-sex relationships, could be exempt from the 12-month deferral period men who have sex with men (MSM) are currently subject to.

PinkNews has seen copies of correspondence between a highly-respected, award-winning NHS haematologist and Mr Fabricant. The doctor asked to remain anonymous, but called for more research to be done.

He wrote to Mr Fabricant: “I am a practicing haematologist, and therefore transfusion matters form a substantial part of my daily NHS work. The National Blood Service is an incredible, world leading, pioneering and hugely impressive organisation, for which I have enormous respect. It has made the UK probably the safest country in the world in which to receive a blood transfusion. It has moved with new challenges, threats and scientific developments and its training and guidelines are unrivalled internationally. However the matter of excluding gay men from transfusion, and the bizarre compromise of insisting on abstinence for a year prior to any donation, is prejudicial, illogical and reinforces a social stigma that has in other areas been reduced enormously, such as an area for which I understand you have campaigned – gay marriage.”

He continued to say that he had written to the chair of the European Committee on Blood Transfustion, and to the UK Blood Transfusion Services’ Joint Professional Advisory Committee, but that he received no response addressing the concerns.

Jane Ellison responded to Mr Fabricant: “As was agreed at the meeting, I will write to Public Health England regarding the possibility of designing a study to see if it is possible to set blood donor deferral criteria specifically for a sub-population at a different level to the current 12 month deferral for all MSM. We also discussed the forthcoming NHSBT blood donor survey, the results of which are expected to be published early next year and which may provide additional useful information to reflect upon.

“I would emphasise, as I did when I met with you on 1 December, that this is not based on sexual orientation but sexual behaviour… “

Mr Fabricant told PinkNews; “At the meeting with the Minister and the SaBTO who advise the Blood Transfusion Service, it became clear that their decisions are based on understandable caution but lack authoritative data. No research has been done on the incidence of HIV or Hepatitis infection amongst gay couples in a monogamous relationship. I am now calling on the Department of Health to commission this research as a matter of urgency. It is in the interests of recipients of blood as well as the need to prevent unwarranted discrimination, as there is a shortage of donors, that this be undertaken without further delay.

“Research currently underway – referred to by the minister in her letter – will not be available until April or May and, in any event, only applies to the general cohort of gay or bisexual men or as the Department of Health quaintly put it: Men who have sex with Men, MSM.  It does not include research on gay men in a monogamous relationship.

“I was particularly annoyed by SaBTO officials who when confronted by me asking how might it be clinically possible for monogamous gay couples to become infected, they replied asking how can either partner be trusted to tell the truth of their sexual behaviour to Transfusion officials? When I responded saying that the same might be said of straight blood donors, no reply was forthcoming. There is clearly a mind-set driven by understandable caution and public safety on the one hand, and downright prejudice on the other. This is particularly relevant now that we’ve had a number of years of Civil Partnerships and more recently same-sex marriage.

“It clearly makes no scientific or medical sense for a promiscuous straight man to be a blood donor while a monogamous loving gay couple may not.”

Ed Miliband last week called for a review of the blood ban, which stops sexually active gay and bisexual men from giving blood.

Last month, the FDA in the US announced that a permanent ban on MSM donating blood should end, in favour of a 12-month deferral system similar to England, Wales and Scotland.

Northern Ireland maintains a permanent ban on MSM blood donation, as the DUP consistently block all attempts to reform the measure.

via PinkNews

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The NHS urgently needs to make PrEP available

preptabs

Two European studies of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), PROUD1 and IPERGAY2, reported early results in October 2014. Both studies showed that PrEP was so effective at preventing HIV transmission that everyone in these studies has now been offered PrEP. The comparison arms, which respectively offered delayed PrEP or a placebo, have been closed.

In light of this news, together with data on continued high rates of new infections3, the NHS urgently needs to make PrEP available.

Although an NHS England process to evaluate PrEP is underway, any decision to provide PrEP will probably not be implemented until early 2017, which is too long to wait. We are calling for earlier access to PrEP. The NHS must speed up its evaluation process and make PrEP available as soon as possible. Furthermore, we call for interim arrangements to be agreed now for provision of PrEP to those at the highest risk of acquiring HIV.

What is PrEP?

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It involves a person who doesn’t have HIV taking pills regularly to reduce their risk of HIV infection. Several studies show that PrEP works.

PrEP is currently only available in the UK to people enrolled in the PROUD study,4 but has been available in the US since 2012.

Why do we need PrEP?

There are now over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK. 5 We need to improve HIV prevention.

Tens of thousands of HIV transmissions have been prevented by condom use.6  However many people do not use condoms all of the time and each year there are thousands of new infections. PrEP has the potential to prevent new infections among some of those at greatest risk of acquiring HIV.

Condom use will remain a core strategy in HIV prevention. PrEP gives people who already find it difficult to consistently use condoms an additional way to protect their health.

Due to the high rate of HIV infections, there is a particular need for the NHS to make PrEP available to gay men. However it should be available to all people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV.

How effective is PrEP?

Research suggests that PrEP is as effective as condoms in preventing HIV transmission, as long as the pills are taken regularly, as directed. Evidence from a large international study suggests that gay men who maintained at least four doses a week had 96% fewer infections.7 8 Preliminary results from separate studies of PrEP in the UK9 and France10 both show that PrEP substantially reduces infections among gay men. Full results are expected early in 2015. PrEP has also proven effective for heterosexual couples in which one partner is HIV positive and not on HIV treatment.11

PrEP does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. It allows someone to protect their own health, irrespective of whether their partner uses a condom. Because it is taken several hours before sex, it does not rely on decision-making at the time of sex.

Why take HIV treatment to avoid taking HIV treatment?

People living with HIV need to take lifelong treatment. PrEP consists of fewer drugs and people only need to take it during periods when they are at risk of HIV. Many people find that their sexual behaviour changes over time, for example when they begin or end a relationship.

Does PrEP have side-effects?

Any medicine can have side-effects, so taking PrEP is a serious decision. The drugs in PrEP have been used as part of HIV treatment for many years. This has shown that they have a low risk of serious side-effects. Most people taking PrEP don’t report side-effects. Some people have stomach problems, headaches and tiredness during the first month but these usually go away. People taking PrEP have regular check-ups at a clinic.

Does PrEP mean people take more risks?

The full results of the PROUD study will help us understand the impact of PrEP on condom use among gay men in the UK. But other studies of PrEP have consistently reported that being on PrEP did not result in people adopting riskier behaviours. 12 13  14 Instead it gives people who already find it difficult to consistently use condoms a way to protect their health.

                                                        

References

  1. http://www.proud.mrc.ac.uk/PDF/PROUD%20Statement%20161014.pdf
  2. http://www.aidsmap.com/SecondEuropeanPrEPstudyclosesplaceboarmearlyduetohigheffectiveness/page/2917367/
  3. Public Health England. HIV in the United Kingdom: 2014 Report. London: Public Health England. November 2014.
  4. For more information, http://www.proud.mrc.ac.uk
  5. Public Health England. HIV in the United Kingdom: 2014 London: Public Health England. November 2014.
  6. Phillips AN et al. Increased HIV Incidence in Men Who Have Sex with Men Despite High Levels of ARTInduced Viral Suppression: Analysis of an Extensively Documented Epidemic. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55312. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055312.
  7. Grant RM et al. Preexposure Chemoprophylaxis for HIV Prevention in Men Who Have Sex with Men. New England Journal of Medicine 363:2587-2599, 2010.
  8. Anderson PL et al. Emtricitabinetenofovir concentrations and preexposure prophylaxis efficacy in men who have sex with men. Science Translational Medicine 4: 151ra125, 2012.
  9. http://www.proud.mrc.ac.uk/PDF/PROUD%20Statement%20161014.pdf
  10. http://www.aidsmap.com/SecondEuropeanPrEPstudyclosesplaceboarmearlyduetohigheffectiveness/page/2917367/
  11. Baeten JM et al. Antiretroviral Prophylaxis for HIV Prevention in Heterosexual Men and Women. New England Journal of Medicine 367: 399-410, 2012.
  12. Marcus JL et al. No Evidence of Sexual Risk Compensation in the iPrEx Trial of Daily Oral HIV Preexposure PLoS ONE 8: e81997, 2013.
  13. Mugwanya KK et al. Sexual behaviour of heterosexual men and women receiving antiretroviral preexposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention: a longitudinal analysis. Lancet Infectious Diseases 13: 1021–28, 2013. 14 Grant RM et al. Uptake of preexposure prophylaxis, sexual practices, and HIV incidence in men and transgender women who have sex with men: a cohort study. Lancet Infectious Diseases 14: 820-829, 2014.

Via NAM

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Young, British, and Living With HIV

sexeducation

“I remember not getting out of bed other than to use the loo. My friend had to stay with me just to make sure I was eating,” says ​Niyi Maximus Crown, a 25-year-old man who was diagnosed HIV positive in December 2011. “I didn’t even recognize my own thinking voice. I felt like I was going to be single for the rest of my life. The feelings of worthlessness made me angry and I started to hate myself.”

Last week, ​Public Health England (PHE) released its ​latest report on HIV. “In the UK there are 107,800 people living with HIV,” says Eleanor Briggs, Assistant Director of Policy and Campaigns at National AIDS Trust. In London, almost one in eight gay and bisexual men are HIV positive. Based on the stats from PHE, Briggs adds, “We can say about a third of people living with HIV infection, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, were resident in London.”

What’s more frightening is that PHE estimates that 24 percent of the people in the UK with HIV are currently undiagnosed.

Brandon Wardell Is a 22-Year-Old Comic Who’s Already Done an Album with Bob Odenkirk

Early diagnosis of HIV is crucial. Briggs states that a late diagnosis can mean treatment becomes less effective, reducing a person’s lifespan. Medication also helps stop the spread of HIV by lowering the amount of HIV virus in a positive person to undetectable levels so they are ​unlikely to pass it on.

And yet few people are talking honestly about HIV. In terms of everyday knowledge on the gay scene, HIV exists somewhere in limbo between the grim ​tombstone adverts of the 80s, statistics that get bounced around annually from numerous health organizations and the raw realities of chemsex-fuelled bareback sessions. The subject usually makes an appearance in the media once a year when ​World AIDS Day rolls around. A leading HIV consultant ​told the BBC that there’s a “complete lack of awareness” of the risks among many gay men in the UK.

As gay venues up and down the country prepare to mark World Aids Day (on December 1) with fundraising events for various LGBT charities, though, how many people do you know are comfortable with talking openly about being HIV positive? Do you even know anyone that’s openly HIV positive?

The truth is that, as a community, we still drive people who live with HIV into the closet. It’s not surprising that most gay men feel they want to keep their status private. Many struggled during their lives to come out as gay to their friends, families or work colleagues, and they may not even be out in all aspects of their lives. Having to then deal with the stigma that still exists around being HIV positive is akin to having to deal with a second coming out and, once again, another round of judgement and shame.

A few HIV negative people share their thoughts. “If you get HIV from unprotected sex you deserve it,” said one. Many might privately agree with him. But does that mean they deserve to feel forever alienated by society?

Niyi is better known in London’s gay clubs as Maximus Crown. He is one of the only DJs that is publicly out about being HIV positive, which is a big deal. The UK gay scene has very few openly HIV positive DJs, drag queens or promoters. But Niyi didn’t really have the choice of whether he should put his status out there—his best friend at the time decided to go public with it on Facebook for him.

“My best friend stayed with me every day to make sure that I wasn’t alone, didn’t starve or try and kill myself,” Niyi recalls. “Six months later I decided to distance myself from him because I started to notice things about our friendship that I wasn’t OK with. To get back at me he went onto the Facebook event page for a party I was booked to DJ at and posted a series of comments about me being HIV positive.”

The comments included accusations that Niyi had been having unprotected sex while aware he was HIV positive. “When it happened I wasn’t angry, I just wanted to log out of the universe. If I could have closed my eyes and stopped existing I would have, but it forced me to own my status, which in turn made me more comfortable discussing it publicly.”

If you are old enough to remember ​the campaigns of the 80s, then safer sex and the issues around HIV would have been drummed into your consciousness. But with the advent of combination therapy and the dramatic development of antiretroviral drugs that revolutionized care over the last fifteen years, AIDS-related deaths dropped substantially. Between 2001 and 2011, the rate of new infections ​dropped by 20 percent.

As the number of deaths fell, though, so too did government resources that educated people about HIV. Schools barely touched on the subject. To most people, it was seen as a disease that only affected poorer countries. It’s no wonder that the number of infections in young people has risen comparatively steeply compared to other age groups. As the ​United Nations Population Fund say, young people remain at the centre of the HIV epidemic in terms of rates of infection, vulnerability, impact, and potential for change. The young have grown up in a world changed by AIDS, but so many still lack the correct knowledge about how to prevent HIV infection. ​

For many recently infected guys, getting their head around living with HIV is one of the biggest challenges.

James Hanson-McCormick, 24, who was 18 when he was diagnosed with HIV said “I had no idea what HIV was or how it was contracted. I have had six years to think about my status, and not a single day goes by without me thinking about it. It’s so hard. I wish I knew more [then], I wish I had been better educated and that I knew enough to try and prevent it happening.”

It might sound naïve, but James isn’t alone in his experience. ​Luke Alexander is from Oldbury, a small town outside Birmingham, and was diagnosed HIV positive in June 2013. He was 18. “If I was in a sexual relationship with a guy when I was 15 or 16 it was monogamous,” he tells me. “When I hit 18 I treated myself to a fancy phone and discovered these apps and clubs. You’re new to everything and people say ‘download this’ and you find people want to hook up with you. It’s validation. You become quite promiscuous.”

Luke’s candidness took me aback. “I became incredibly egotistical and quite narcissistic,” he admits. “Add drugs and alcohol into the equation and it becomes quite a habit. One thing led to another and I didn’t take any precautions.”

Will Harris, Head of Media for ​Terrence Higgins Trust, says that while research shows that most gay men use condoms most of the time, it only takes one instance of unprotected sex for HIV to be passed on. “Condom use has to be consistent… It’s basic human nature to under-estimate risk, so our community needs to keep finding ways to reinforce the message that ‘He looks fine, it’ll probably be OK’ won’t give you the protection that a condom will.”

Earlier this year, Luke ​made headlines when he went on ITV’s This Morning to discuss his HIV status. “I never heard anything about HIV in school,” he said. “You can become a bit reckless when you come of age, but it’s far worse if you have no basis of knowledge to refer to.”

Like James, Luke’s ​sex and relationship education in school was virtually non-existent. “It lasted a few hours. If people weren’t there, they didn’t receive it. While they stressed the importance of contraception, it was for pregnancy. When I asked about anal sex, they said, ‘We don’t recommend it.’ I felt embarrassed. I just wanted to hear their perspective.”

Harris agrees that the education system has failed in this regard, saying that:

“Young gay men are generally frozen out by the current approach to sex education in schools.”

“The past is the past, though, and you can’t change that,” James reasons. “The great thing now is I’m healthy and happy. I’ve been on meds for five years now and doing so well. My health, in general, is alright.”

But living with HIV isn’t just about monitoring your physical wellbeing. The emotional strain of the constant check-ups and coming to terms with the virus can also present its own psychological strain.”Physically I’m fine,” James says. “I do suffer with depression, but that’s down to several things—not just my HIV. Sometimes it’s difficult juggling lots of meds every day. Often my depression gets bad and tells me I’m worthless and to not take it. But I have faith in medicine that one day there will be a cure.” His biggest wish is more altruistic still: “More knowledge and understanding around HIV and AIDS.”

For many recently infected guys, getting their head around living with HIV is one of the biggest challenges. Stigma is a major issue.

“Robert,” 29, (not his real name), has been HIV positive since 2007. A casual partner sexually assaulted him when he was passed out after a heavy drugs session. Only his closest friends and immediate family are aware of his status. He puts this down to the assumptions that people make about those who are positive. “It’s not the fact that it’s an unattractive quality [to be HIV positive], it’s that people think you had a choice. You hear a lot about bareback parties and people who think that those who have a lot of condom-less casual sex ‘deserve’ to get HIV. I don’t judge anybody but I don’t want to be put in that category. I’m not ashamed of being HIV positive, but it does affect how people perceive you if they don’t know you.”

Robert has told around ten partners about his status when they’ve asked about barebacking. “I don’t have unprotected sex unless we are both aware of our status,” he says. Even so, he says it’s still common for HIV positive guys to be afraid to disclose their status to others in the same position: “I’ve even met positive guys who I’ve been honest with, but they have lied about being positive because they don’t want to say they are.”

It’s upsetting to think that we are forcing so many thousands of gay men into a situation where they feel alienated by their own community. It takes a strong person to rise up against a tide of possible condemnation and be among the first to speak up.

Luke lost friends after going public about his diagnosis. People stopped answering his calls. He believes it was because they were afraid to be associated with somebody that was openly HIV positive. Similarly, when he confided in a friend about his status, she was more concerned that she’d shared his wine glass than how Luke was feeling. (Incidentally, if you labor under similar misconceptions, HIV cannot and ​will not be spread by sharing glasses.)

Sadly, despite it now being considered to be a very manageable long-term health condition, HIV is still widely misunderstood. “You can sit on a park bench and talk for two hours with someone about your diabetes,” Luke says. “But you can’t do that with HIV because you’ll often get a look of fear and shock.”

Niyi eventually reached a point when he had enough of feeling ashamed. “I woke up one day and was like, life isn’t always going to be easy. Self-pity isn’t fierce and it isn’t fun. Doing things and being around people that encouraged me to feel good about myself was such a big help.”

There is one hurdle that remains for him, though, and that’s relationships. He’s been single for seven years. “The thought of being rejected by a guy because of it terrifies me. I feel that it will always hold me back until I am able to get past that final fear.”

James has been luckier in love. He met his boyfriend 18 months ago and they married last August.

Niyi, Luke and James are heroes!  They have decided that it’s time to challenge the stigma that looms around HIV for no other reason than people are not talking about an issue that affects us all. The education system is broken, so they’ve taken it upon themselves to speak out about it. They have taken a situation that could have stripped them completely, that could, if they let it, absolutely define them, but instead have turned it into something powerful.

As his fears subsided, Luke was inspired by another HIV activist and started blogging about his experience. “It got a lot of attention. I wanted to help people understand and it was a feeling of empowerment. The good reactions that followed confirmed it was the right thing to do,” he says. He now also writes monthly about the subject for Gay Times.

Niyi agrees. “There are so many people suffering unnecessarily because they feel that being HIV nullifies everything good about who they are, but it really doesn’t. Everybody deserves to wake up feeling like they are of value and if all I have to do is talk about my situation in order for people to see that, then that’s what I will do. People need to know that someone’s HIV status is not an indication of what kind of person they are.”

Story via Vice

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Lord Fowler: Fight against HIV going backwards because of anti-gay laws

Lord-Fowler

Former Health Secretary Lord Fowler says the fight against HIV is “going backwards” because of anti-gay laws in many parts of the world.

Lord Fowler, who served as Margaret Thatcher’s Health Secretary until 1987, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “The real problem is that you have got 35 million people living with HIV in the world today, but half of those don’t know they have the infection.

“And one of the reasons why they won’t come forward for testing is because of the prejudice and the laws against homosexuality, against gay people, against lesbians and the stigma connected with HIV.”
The Conservative peer added: “Unless we tackle that; my fear is we are going backwards.”

AIDS: Don’t Die of Prejudice, a book written by Lord Fowler, charting the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic, is due to be released on Monday, 9th June.

Uganda’s Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo last month accused the country’s HIV support groups of “promoting homosexuality” and warned that he will take action against them.

The Ugandan Parliament has passed a bill that will criminalise intentional transmission of HIV as well as attempted transmission of the virus.  Human Rights Watch (HRW) described Uganda’s HIV law as “deeply flawed” in part because it is based on what the group called “stigma and discrimination.”

Article via Pink News

Want to know more about Lord Fowler? – Check out these articles and get in the know!

 

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Boys who like boys: A survey of understanding about sex

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HIV diagnoses among young gay and bisexual men have more than doubled in the past 10 years and rates of HIV transmission among gay and bisexual men remain constant, with no evidence of decline. (Get the data)

We know that there is now more opportunity for gay and bisexual men to meet sexual partners and form relationships; however this is not being matched with increased provision of information and support around relationships, safer sex, HIV and their general health and well-being.

Much more can be done to better meet the health and wellbeing needs of young gay and bisexual men to help reduce HIV transmission and to improve their general health and well being irrespective of HIV. Part of this is responding specifically to support and information related need. For example, research also shows that sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools is often inaccessible and not relevant to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people, which threatens to undermine this group’s right to education.

In addition, where young gay and bisexual men might conventionally learn about safer sex, relationships and HIV, such as educational settings, they can experience marginalisation and homophobic prejudice.  (See the School Report, Stonewall 2012)

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) have designed a survey looking at where and how young gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM)  source information, advice or support about sexuality, sex and relationships, safer sex, and HIV; whether they think these sources are helpful; and what types of additional information and support they would like more of. The survey will also assess respondents knowledge around HIV, safer sex and human rights, and reported sexual behaviour. The survey is targeted at young gay and bisexual men aged 14 – 19.

Access the survey (and enter for a chance to win a £75 voucher) by clicking this link.

Take our survey of understanding about sex

 

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Many older people with HIV ‘face age-related stigma’

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Many older people with HIV say they are stigmatised because of their age, leaving them feeling isolated and afraid, a study suggests.

Researchers at Keele University say HIV is still widely seen as a disease of young people.

They say older women, in particular, fear they will be seen as “undignified” or “sexually irresponsible”.

Many in the study also expressed fears over the uncertain impact of the disease as they moved into old age.

Thirty years on from the discovery of the Aids virus, the public health warnings that followed, including the “tombstone” adverts, still have a powerful resonance for those who saw them.

They helped to shape perceptions of a disease seen then as a death sentence.

Now advances in treatment mean people with HIV can have near-normal life-expectancy.

And that has had a huge impact on the types of patient needing treatment.

‘Lazarus effect’
Dr David Asboe, a consultant in HIV medicine at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, recalls the desperate outlook for patients he looked after 20 years ago – usually young gay men.

“We knew that once patients had an Aids diagnosis that would be uniformly fatal. The average life expectancy was approximately two years,” he says.

“But in the mid-1990s we had effective treatment and suddenly it changed very quickly, there really was this Lazarus effect.”

Today, half the people Dr Asboe sees are aged over 50. Some are in their mid-80s. They include gay men and heterosexual men and women. Some were infected in the UK, some overseas.

A significant proportion, he says, acquired HIV recently. He says there seems to be a myth that as people get older they might somehow be protected. That, he emphasises, is not true.

Dr Asboe, who is also chairman of the British HIV association, has been involved with the HIV and Later Life (Hall) study based at Keele University, which has looked at the social and psychological impact of the virus for people over 50.

This is a growing cohort. According to the Health Protection Agency, in 2011 more than one in five adults accessing HIV care in the UK were over 50. In 2002 it was one in nine.

The researchers used focus groups, surveys and life-history interviews with 76 older people in the London area living with the virus.

Dr Dana Rosenfeld, who led the project, says there was an “immense knowledge gap” in this field. She says it has revealed a sense of anxiety about how they may be perceived.

“A lot of the people to whom we spoke, particularly but not exclusively the women, spoke of their sense that they would be seen as undignified, that having HIV in later life would be read as sexually irresponsible.

“And there was a real sense that particularly in later life HIV status would be read in very stigmatised ways.”

That was a worry for 63-year-old Adrienne Steed from Blackburn, who was diagnosed with HIV 11 years ago, infected by a long-term partner.

He had died two years previously of liver cancer. She did not know he had had HIV so when she started having symptoms it did not occur to her – or to the doctors she saw – that she could be carrying the infection.

“It was a terrible shock to me and something I remember to this day. I had no idea I was HIV-positive. It was the last thing on my mind,” she says.

It took four years until she felt able to tell her son.

“During that time I experienced what it’s like to live as an invisible woman with this big secret that you couldn’t tell anybody.

“It was a horrible time. It’s the stigma. You feel ashamed of yourself even though you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.

“People don’t realise you can contract it from a loving partner who might not even know that they have it themselves.”

Now she helps others through a blog and local support group, so – as she puts it – they don’t have to live with what can feel like a “dirty secret”.

“Once they’ve spoken to me it normalises it a bit more,” she says.

“They think, ‘Oh she doesn’t look too bad. She’s nearly 64, she’s active, she’s still laughing. There must be some hope there.'”

The Hall study found the experience of ageing with HIV was heavily influenced by community.

Older gay men were more likely to know other people with the virus, and to know more about support organisations.

Black African heterosexual men and women had also lived with the spectre of HIV for years, but were less likely than gay men to disclose their status to others, the study said.

Many white heterosexuals, meanwhile, felt they were a “minority within a minority”, and that their family and friends would be shocked by their HIV status.

Most of those who took part in the survey felt lucky to have survived into later life, but many were troubled by uncertainty over the physical impact of the virus or side-effects of treatment for this – the first generation to age with HIV.

via bbc

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HIV stigma divides and fragments gay communities

A review of research studies has identified a growing division within gay communities, in which HIV-negative gay men associate mainly with other HIV-negative men, and vice versa. Moreover stigma has negative impacts on the health of both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men, say the authors, writing in the online edition of AIDS Care.

Stigma has been defined as ‘‘a process of devaluation of people either living with, or associated with, HIV and AIDS’’. The majority of the research literature on stigma deals with the attitudes of the general population, but the authors wished to draw attention to and pull together reports concerning the stigmatisation of HIV-positive men within communities of gay men.

They describe this literature as “fragmented and largely anecdotal” – and call for more empirical research – but have identified multiple references to stigma that affects gay and bisexual men.

  • Seven out of ten gay male respondents to a Dutch survey had experienced stigma on the gay scene.
  • HIV-positive men perceive a ‘‘rift’’ based on HIV status within their gay community.
  • Fear of rejection by potential sexual partners is widely reported and causes long-lasting harm to the self-confidence and self-esteem of men with HIV.
  • Older men with HIV feel particularly under-valued, believing that they are at the “lowest rung” of the “gay social hierarchy”, resented for supposedly being dependent on social benefits that are no longer available to younger men with HIV.
  • Body fat changes and other physical manifestations of HIV and its treatment are regarded as unattractive. Men with such symptoms report a loss of intimacy and the avoidance of particular social spaces because they feel self-conscious or fear rejection.
  • In the United States, black gay men are perceived to be at higher risk of having HIV compared to men of other ethnicities, and are sometimes avoided as sexual partners for that reason.
  • Stigma has a considerable impact on mental and emotional well-being, leading to anxiety, loneliness, depression, thoughts of suicide and avoidance strategies such as social withdrawal.
  • Men who only disclose their HIV-status to a limited support network often feel socially isolated.
  • Some gay men with HIV report keeping social and sexual distance from other HIV-positive men, feeling that being associated with HIV-positive sexual spaces (either online or offline) would compound stigma directed against them.
  • HIV-positive men who identify as ‘barebackers’ tend to report greater stigma, gay-related stress, self-blame and substance abuse coping.
  • Men reporting discrimination from sexual partners and breaches of confidentiality are less likely to adhere to their medication.

The authors note that stigma has negative effects on the health of HIV-negative men too. HIV-negative men who rely on trying to avoid sexual contact with HIV-positive men as a way of avoiding HIV infection put themselves at risk – due to infrequent HIV testing, undiagnosed infection and non-disclosure of HIV status.Moreover stigmatising beliefs are associated with lower rates of HIV testing and poorer knowledge about HIV transmission.

They say that effective strategies, validated by research, to reduce stigma are urgently needed. “Such initiatives should foster a renewed dialogue about living with HIV as a gay man, create opportunities to share understanding and experience among HIV positive and HIV-negative men, and aim to reunite gay communities by reducing stigma and offering integrated medical and social support.”

Original Article by Roger Pebody at NAM

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