Tag Archives: hiv

Thank You to HRH Prince Harry & LASS Partner Organisations

HRH Prince Harry with Salma Ravat & Nadine Coogan (Photo: Tom Robson @tjrfoto)

Partner organisations joined LASS in a training session led by Juliet Kisob and Sadiya Mohamed.  They looked at the role of community HIV testing in encouraging people to know their HIV status and to help reduce late diagnosis.

CEO Jenny Hand introduces HRH Prince Harry to Sadiya Mohamed & Juliet Kisob. (Photo: Tom Robson @tjrfoto)

They were joined by HRH Prince Harry for workshops where they used a case study to look at how critical partnerships are to breaking down stigma and to identify new places for LASS to test in our 30th year. In Leicester 59% of patients are diagnosed late, which is 20% higher than the national average.

HRH Prince Harry unveils a unveiled a plaque marking the start of LASS’s 30th year. With Evernice Tirivanhu, Jenny Hand & David Rowlands (Photo/Animation: Tom Robson @tjrfoto)

Prince Harry unveiled a plaque marking his visit and 30 years of LASS. He invited trustee Evernice Tirivanhu to assist him She said: “It’s quite a special day for us.
“People living with HIV have to fight a lot of stigma, and to find that members of the royal family are willing to come and support the charity is very encouraging.”
Prince Harry’s visit came as the National AIDS Trust reported “an alarming trend for cutting or completely decommissioning HIV support services across England and Wales”.

LASS has been absolutely delighted to welcome partner organisations yesterday.  By working together we demonstrate unity within the voluntary sector and strengthen the approach of social care, support and advocacy across Leicester, Leicestershire, Rutland and the East Midlands.

You can find coverage of Prince Harry’s visit to LASS, and other Leicester Projects from the following news outlets.  Photographs from the training session are in the gallery below.

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How Sesame Street tackles social issues like autism, HIV, disability and other conditions

Sesame Street has introduced its latest muppet – a little girl called Julia, who has autism.

The character’s already featured in digital and printed storybooks, but will debut on TV next month.

Her introduction will attempt to explain the complex topic of autism to a young audience.

But this isn’t the first time Sesame Street has been a trailblazer in introducing socially progressive characters to children.

Look back at some of the other characters who’ve attempted to explain difficult issues to children.

Kami, the HIV-positive character

Warning: third-party content may contain ads.

Kami was introduced to the South African version of Sesame Street in 2002.

She was brought in to try to reduce the stigma around people with HIV/Aids in a country with one of the highest infection rates in the world.

Her name comes from the word kamogelo, which means acceptance in the Zulu, Sesotho and Setswana languages.

The designer of the muppet Ed Christie said in 2004 that Kami was deliberately designed not to be a “humanoid” character, as the makers felt that she would be easier to accept.

Mahboub, the Arab-Israeli muppet

In 2006, Sesame Street introduced a character to try to reduce prejudice between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mahboub, a five-year-old Arab character, speaks Hebrew and Arabic, and appeared in both Israeli and Palestinian versions of the show – as well as in Shalom Sesame, the Jewish-American version.

In a part of the world where tension between the two territories has been high for decades, his introduction prompted some unhappy reactions.

Yuli Tamir, Israel’s minister of education at the time, said the character had the aim of “teaching children how to live together, how to work together with each other despite their differences”.

Aristotle the blind monster

Also known as Ari, this muppet appeared in the 1980s to teach children how blind people live in the wider world.

In one scene, he shows Big Bird how he uses Braille by reading Little Red Riding Hood.

Most Sesame Street characters don’t have visible ears – but Aristotle was a rare exception, to help explain how he uses other senses instead of sight.

Katie the wheelchair user

Big Bird and bullying

A 2011 episode taught children how to recognise and tackle bullying at school.

The story revolves around Big Bird, who, because of his size and colour, isn’t allowed in the “good birds’ club” by its leader Pigeon.

Big Bird even appeared on CNN around the time of the episode as part of a wider anti-bullying campaign.

This wasn’t the first time Sesame Street took on this subject. In 2003, they performed a blues song Don’t be a Bully.

Lily, the muppet highlighting childhood hunger

‘Gay’ characters Bert and Ernie (unofficially)

For decades, audiences have believed that best friends Bert and Ernie are actually lovers – an especially progressive move for a show which started in 1969.

The two do have a very close relationship, and sleep in the same room – and their images have been used in gay rights’ protests for years, for example on the cover of the New Yorker after same-sex marriage was legalised in the US in 2013.

Bert and Ernie’s response to the court ruling allowing Gay Marriage:

In 2014, a Christian-run bakery in Northern Ireland refused a customer’s request to make a cake with the faces of Bert and Ernie with a pro-gay rights message.

But Sesame Street has always denied that the two are gay, including in a Facebook statement in 2011, where they said that the two muppets “were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves”.

Or, as Sesame Street Workshop boss Gary Knell put it in 1994, “they are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets. They don’t exist below the waist”.

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Have you ever wondered what HIV sounds like?


The majority of us enjoy music to some degree or another, pop, classical, rock R&B but have you ever wondered what HIV would sound like?

There is a range of sound and music, which lies beyond the range of human hearing. “Sounds of HIV” is a musical translation of the genetic code of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. In this album, segments of the virus are assigned musical pitches that correspond to the segment’s scientific properties. In this way, the sounds reflect an accurate, musical nature of the virus. When listening from beginning to end, the listener hears the entire genome of HIV.”

You may think that expressing nucleotides of the genome of a virus as pitches of the melodic scale as a promotional stunt, why would you draw a connection between adenosine and A, between cytosine and C and so on?

University of Georgia graduate student Alexandra Pajak’s instrumental sequence ensemble which draws inspiration from the physical properties of HIV itself!

“Sounds of HIV,” is a 17-track, 52-minute long musical adaptation of HIV’s genetic code. Pajak assigned pitches to the four basic nucleotides in DNA — A for Adenine, C for Cytosine, G for Guanine and D for Thymine — but the score contains much more than these for notes

Applying scientific rigour to music is nothing new and has been done in the past with math so why not with biochemistry? Alexandra Pajak, native of Athens, Georgia studied both composition and sciences and her work reveals a fascination with both subjects. Then there is a general sense of unease, creeping in. This undeniably beautiful music expresses HIV, a virus responsible for the destruction of much beauty and art. On one hand, it’s tempting to assume that nature’s creations achieve a high level of symmetry and beauty and a virus should not be exempt from that principle.

On the other hand, what terrible beauty is there to be found should we glimpse inside the genome of the plague, syphilis, smallpox or even flu? These ruminations tend to accompany listening to this oddly-concordant composition, performed with aplomb by the Sequence Ensemble.

In a way, the strange and disturbing recording reveals itself beautiful yet disturbing as the sounds reflect the true nature of the virus. When listening from beginning to end, the listener hears the entire genome of HIV.”

Unfortunately, we’re unable to stream the full album however here’s the links to it on Google Music or Spotify, if you’re more old school, here’s the CD on Amazon.

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Blood on the Dance Floor – From Heritage to Health.


Jacob Boehme has put his experiences of being a gay, indigenous, HIV-positive man into a solo show Image credit Bryony Jackson

Jacob Boehme remembers when he knew something was seriously wrong.

It was 1998 and Boehme had had a nagging cold for months. An Aboriginal elder “sat me in the middle of her legs and started to sing over me”, he recalls. Performing a healing ceremony, she wiped the sweat from his armpits and smothered it on his head and neck. Eventually, she muttered: “Ahh, you need to go to a Western doctor. Everything is red. I cannot help you.”

Boehme was diagnosed with HIV. In an era when antiretroviral treatments were in their infancy, it was the first news of its kind his doctor had delivered. “He was choked up and almost crying,” Boehme says. “I had to console him.”

Now 43, Boehme is not only still alive, he has put his experiences of being a gay, indigenous, HIV-positive man into a solo show. Blood on the Dance Floor, which just played at the Sydney Festival, explores what our understanding of blood means, from heritage to health.

Better portrayals

Combining storytelling and dance, the work includes a skit on being a camp “gay elder” in drag, discussion of stigma around HIV in the gay community (particularly when trying to find a partner), and moments when Boehme is framed, moving, against streams of blood, with bubbling red cells projected against the wall.

Most important, he says, is rewriting the conversation on what being HIV-positive means.


Boehme’s show features a projection representing blood cells Image credit Bryony Jackson

“Anything shown in the media or entertainment, it’s always been some kind of memorialisation of the Aids crisis back in the ’80s. Everybody dies,” he elaborates.

“That’s not relevant to me and to many of the other men and women that I know living with HIV. There isn’t an image of a healthy functioning person with employment and prospects – you don’t see that portrayed anywhere.”

Another key step, he says, is broadening our understanding of who suffers from the virus. According to the University of New South Wales, notification rates (the reporting of newly-diagnosed cases) of indigenous men with HIV doubled in the past five years from 6.2 per 100,000 to 12.4 per 100,000. In contrast, non-indigenous notification rates fell by 12%, said the report by the university’s Kirby Institute.

Despite this, education campaigns largely remain directed towards white men, says Boehme.

“Tell me the last time you saw an HIV education campaign with someone from the Aboriginal, Asian or African identity on those posters? You just see gay white men in their underwear,” he points out.

“It makes quite a lot of people feel completely dismissed and it’s not just the gay male community – it’s heterosexual males living with HIV, kids living with HIV too. It’s never been a gay white man’s disease.”

Stigma in communities

Born in Melbourne to a non-indigenous mother and father from the Narungga and Kaurna peoples of South Australia, Boehme knew he was gay from the age of four.

The dancer – who is the incoming creative director of the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival – has always had the support of his family.


Boehme uses blood to explore themes of heritage and health Image credit Bryony Jackson

Others are often not as lucky. In some Aboriginal communities, stigma towards homosexuality remains, insists Boehme.

“When you go into communities that are very much still holding up the values of the old mission days, that’s when you get a problem, through those Christian and very Victorian ideas of sex, gender and sexuality,” he says.

Blood on the Dance Floor was dreamed up after rehearsals in a warehouse. Boehme was “obsessed about my blood, about the cleanliness of my blood”. After nicking his heel on an exposed nail, “I sat back down and realised I left a trail of blood on the dance floor. And [my friend] went ‘ah, there’s your title’.”

“Blood, it’s a life force that connects us, it can be used to define us and can be used to discriminate, to separate, or to actually unite,” Boehme says.

Honouring a friend

When writing the show, the artist kept a small crystal decanter of his own blood on his desk. “Suddenly I was connected to my dad, then my grandmother, then a whole line of our ancestors that I never met and through that, those voices started to then speak through me. In that blood, in those codes, there are thousands of generations sitting in that little decanter.”

Boehme says blood connects him to his past and, above all, to his illness. But it also releases him. “Regardless of what features or skin colour we have, really our blood is the thing that ties us together,” he says.


The artist is set to begin as creative director of the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival Image credit Bryony Jackson

A particularly raw moment in Blood on the Dance Floor touches on the suicide of Boehme’s friend in 1996 after discovering he was HIV-positive. It was a time when “there was still this spectre hanging around like it was a death sentence. There was a lot more shame around HIV and he just couldn’t cope.”

Boehme still remembers when he found out. His friend’s boyfriend, drunk, announced at a dinner party that his partner was positive. “I looked at him. And he said, ‘I don’t want that look. I don’t want anyone’s pity. Don’t you dare give me that look.'”

Just two years later – as antiretroviral drugs were being rolled out to the larger population – Boehme received his own diagnosis. In Australia in the 1990s around 1,000 people died each year of Aids. Today, deaths are so low they are not recorded.

“That’s exactly why I insisted we honour him,” Boehme says of his friend. “He didn’t get a chance.”

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Appointment of Chief Executive

LASS was recognised as one of the best health charities in the Country by the Kings Fund with GSK, gaining an Impact Award in 2013.  We are an independent, non-profit organisation providing information, advice, support and advocacy services for people who are living with or affected by HIV.  A large part of our work is also raising awareness about HIV, providing training, workshops, free confidential HIV testing in community settings. We work in partnership with other agencies to challenge stigma and discrimination.    The services we provide aim to improve people’s health and well-being, ultimately helping them to live life to its fullest and contribute to the prosperity of their communities.

LASS now seeks to appoint an exceptional Chief Executive to continue the successful delivery of our services whilst further developing the charity and its social enterprise ‘Well for Living’.  The Chief Executive will be expected to provide both strategic and operational leadership of both our charity and our social enterprise, working effectively with funders, local government and leading a passionate, dynamic team of staff and volunteers.

We are looking for a successful visionary leader who can combine excellent strategic and functional delivery with a natural ability to empathise and work directly with vulnerable adults.  With proven income generation and business development experience, your leadership will ensure LASS and Well for Living’s services are sustainable and of the highest quality, and your inspirational style and personal credibility will help to leverage our profile, networks and connections even further.

Critical to your success will be a genuine passion for equality and making a difference to the wider community as well as a commitment to developing a long standing charity which aims to be a leader in its field.

To learn more about this unique opportunity, download the Job Description with Person Specification and application form  and  return by post or email as specified on the application form.

  • Closing date for applications: 24th February 2017
  • Interviews and presentations:  First stage 9th or 10th March 2017.
  • Final stage: Saturday 18 March and Friday 24th March.

Tinder releases health & safety section to their app after STD rise from hook-up culture


Casual hook-ups are nothing new and neither are STDs. Despite our over-exposure to sex, many young people are still under-educated about the prevalence of STDs and the importance of taking preventative steps.

In fact, there is an ever-growing complacency towards STDs, including HIV, thanks to an increasingly casual sexual culture partly possible through apps like Tinder. Twenty-somethings seem to be the poster generation for unprotected sex and have even been called the ‘pull out generation.’

The stats are frightening. Countries around the world have reported a steady rise of STD cases since 2012. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis have all seen major spikes, and people aged 15-24 make up two thirds of new cases. In 2012, major North American urban centres saw the rate of HIV increase for the first time in over a decade, and just in the past year, Florida saw its rate of new HIV diagnoses go up by 23 percent.

Casual Sex Encounters? – Read this – it’s not the normal sexual health yada yada..



Perhaps not coincidentally, 2012 was also the year that Tinder came out. The popular dating app has revolutionized hook-up culture, making it easier than ever to meet people with the sole purpose of having sex. The app also made it easier than ever to catch an STD.

Last year, the AIDS Health Foundation in Los Angeles launched an ad campaign linking the rise of STDs to the dating app. The foundation argued that the dating app has completely changed the modern sexual landscape and has made “casual sex as easily available as ordering a pizza.” Their campaign reminded people that even though sexual encounters have become increasingly brief and frequent, STDs have long-lasting effects and should be taken seriously.

In addition to Tinder, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation argues that young people have had the good fortune to not grow up in a world where HIV is a death sentence thanks to the development of effective antiretroviral drugs. But that in turn has developed a false sense of security and a detachment from HIV’s threat. In general, Americans are simply not as afraid of HIV, viewing it as a ‘third-world disease’ and are vastly under-educated on the topic.

That attitude has led to AIDS falling off the media radar. Tellingly, education programs have lost funding. You rarely see advertisements promoting safe sex, and many people have reverted to old, reckless sexual behaviour. Younger people are particularly affected by this phenomenon since they didn’t live through the original AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation argues that the development of effective antiretroviral drugs has developed a false sense of security against STDs

Tinder responded to the AHF campaign with a cease and desist letter, arguing that the sexual health of a person in any relationship, formed on Tinder or otherwise, is in the hands of that person and not the app itself. But it has shown support for the initiative by creating a new section on the app that provides sexual health information as well as a locator for STD-testing facilities.

Hopefully young Tinder users take the section as a wake up call to the realities of STDs and change their ways for the better. Remember kids: no glove no love.

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#UnchartedTerritory: A report into the first generation growing older with HIV


‘I mean I have nothing, the money has gone. That’s all gone. But I mean we’d spend our holidays….having fun thinking we were going to just spend up until we died.’

The Terrence Higgins Trust has today launched a new report – Uncharted Territory – which looks at the first generation of people to grow older with HIV in the UK.  The full report and executive summary can be accessed here.

Produced with peer researchers – individuals aged 50 and over living with HIV in the UK – the report shines a light on the needs and experiences of people living with HIV aged 50+. There is no single experience for older people living with HIV and the report makes clear that there is a diversity of needs and experience, from those individuals who need very little support through to those who have more complex needs.

‘I think I’ve just reached a point in my life now where I’m settled in myself, what will be will be … you expect to get ill when you get old so that doesn’t really bother me. You stop caring what people think I suppose.’

The fact that the effectiveness of modern treatment means people living with HIV can expect to live a full life is to be celebrated, however this success brings with it a set of new challenges:


  • 58% of people living with HIV aged 50+ were defined as living on or below the poverty line – double the levels of poverty seen in the general population.
  • Over a third of individuals were solely reliant on welfare benefits to live.
  • 84% of respondents were concerned about future financial difficulties


  • 22% of people living with HIV aged 50+ rated their current wellbeing as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.
  • People living with HIV aged 50 and over have on average three times as many long term health conditions as the general population.
  • 84% of people living with HIV aged 50 and over were concerned about how they will manage multiple health conditions in the future.

Social Care

  • People living with HIV aged 50+ have faced discrimination from social care professionals due to their HIV status.
  • 82% of over 50s living with HIV were concerned about whether they would be able to access adequate social care in the future.
  • 88% had not made financial plans to fund future care needs.


  • A third were socially isolated and 82% experienced moderate to high levels of loneliness.

Over 50s are the fastest growing group of people living with HIV – 1,018 individuals aged 50 and over were diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2015 and now over one third of people living with HIV in the UK are over 50. This group, the first generation growing older with HIV, are entering uncharted territory.

The Terrence Higgins Trust will be sharing stories, stats and asking supporters to stand with those 50 and over living with HIV on social media as part of the drive to amplify the voices of older people living with HIV. Please do share and spread the word about #UnchartedTerritory.

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