Tag Archives: Living With Hiv

Prayer is good, prayer and medication is better!

Pastor Elizabeth was told that prayer was all she needed to fight HIV, she stopped taking her medication after faith leaders insisted she cease taking anti-HIV and life saving drugs.  She wrestled with the decision and is now an advocate for taking medication.  She says “If you are sick, and someone tells you not to take medication, they are misleading you.  Pastor Elizabeth realises this and wishes to share that HIV is simply an illness which requires medication.

At the beginning of the HIV epidemic in the early eighties, some faith leaders preached that only ‘sinners’ contracted the virus, advising that the only solution for those living with HIV was to pray hard for forgiveness. While many faith leaders have since realised that HIV is simply a virus that can affect anyone, unfortunately some haven’t. In fact, a few have gone even further, telling those in their congregations who are living with HIV to stop taking their Antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) and instead concentrate on praying because that’s the only way they will experience emotional and physical healing.

Whether praying to be healed from HIV is being preached in select churches, or some church-goers living with HIV are misinterpreting what their faith leaders are telling them, a number of HIV positive people have died as a result of stopping their HIV medication. What remains unclear is how many people are being converted to this way of thinking. Is this a big problem warranting a global intervention, or are we making a mountain out of a molehill? I personally don’t know the definitive answers to these questions, but what I can say is that where prayer and HIV healing are concerned, I have witnessed and have heard of some pretty bizarre behaviour among people living with HIV, particularly within African communities in the UK and in some parts of Africa.

It was reported in October 2011 that blind faith in prayer claimed the lives of three people who were HIV positive.  At least three people in London with HIV died after they stopped taking life saving drugs on the advice of their Evangelical Christian pastors.

The women died after attending churches in London where they were encouraged to stop taking the antiretroviral drugs in the belief that God would heal them, their friends and a leading HIV doctor said.

HIV prevention charity African Health Policy Network (AHPN) says a growing number of London churches have been telling people the power of prayer will “cure” their infections.

“This is happening through a number of churches. We’re hearing about more cases of this,” AHPN chief Francis Kaikumba said.

Whether you believe in religion or not, there is absolutely nothing wrong with prayer to help you with HIV, however there is everything wrong with discontinuing medication in favour of prayer.  Take time to consider the different mechanises to combat HIV.  Prayer may help the soul and medication will help the body.  There are a lot of people of all faiths in within research and development who would hope you look after your body too.

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HIV and the general election – what we should be talking about!

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Press Release via NAM (@aidsmap)

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NAM is an award-winning, community-based organisation, which works from the UK. They deliver reliable and accurate HIV information across the world to HIV-positive people and to the professionals who treat, support and care for them.

The National AIDS Trust and HIV Scotland have joined together to identify the key priorities for the new Parliament which will reduce HIV transmission and improve the lives of people living with HIV across the UK. They are calling on the next UK Government to commit to the following:

1. Retain the protections set out in the Human Rights Act, which acts as a safeguard to ensure people living with HIV can live a meaningful, safe and fulfilled life.

2. Introduce compulsory Sex and Relationships Education for all schools, which is inclusive of young people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and has appropriate sexual health and HIV content – in the first session of the new Parliament.*

3. Make HIV prevention a national public health priority, with effective funding, more varied testing options and access to the full range of prevention information and choices for all who need them.*

4. End HIV stigma in the NHS and social care through the training of all NHS and care staff.*

5. Ensure that people affected by HIV-related sickness or disability have the support they need by committing to the Disability Benefits Consortium’s Five Things You And Your Party Can Do For Disabled People.

Deborah Gold, chief executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), said: ”HIV has already been talked about during the general election but now we need to focus on how we can decrease the number of people getting HIV in the UK, how we can reduce the shocking levels of stigma and ignorance around the disease, and how we can ensure people living with HIV are treated with respect and dignity.”

George Valiotis, chief executive of HIV Scotland, said: “The responsibility for many of the decisions that affect HIV are devolved in Scotland – sex and relationships education, HIV prevention and the training of NHS and care staff. Despite this, the new UK Government has a key role to play north of the border. Chiefly retaining a commitment to the Human Rights Act and ensuring dependable, fair access to welfare support for those who need it.”

The charities are asking voters to raise these issues when talking to candidates and to share the five HIV asks.  This is part of a cross-sector campaign, with Terrence Higgins Trust joining the call for the new Government to take action on sex and relationships education, HIV prevention for England and a stigma-free NHS. 

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David Cameron’s HIV Hypocrisy

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Just a few weeks ago David Cameron and other MPs sat in the House of Commons and wore red World AIDS Day ribbons for a community they clearly don’t understand.

“The ribbon is the universal symbol of HIV awareness and it was good to see so many MPs showing solidarity with people who live with HIV in the UK and around the world,”  ​said Cameron in his statement on December 1st. “Whilst the overall number of new diagnoses last year was down slightly on 2010, there was an increase amongst men who have sex with men. And a quarter of people living with HIV don’t know they have it. I am absolutely clear that there can be no complacency in our fight against HIV and AIDS.”

Cameron concluded by saying how the red ribbon is about more than showing solidarity with those living with HIV in the UK and abroad.

“It should also be a spur to increase testing and a symbol of our commitment to carrying on work to reduce infection levels whilst tackling the stigma, discrimination and prejudice often associated with HIV and sexual health.”

But we’ve heard it all before. Politicians deliver compassionate messages one day and deliver crushing blows the next. Despite more and more young people  ​being diagnosed HIV positive because of a lack of information about the issue, the government has announced that there will be ​devastating cuts to the national HIV prevention programme in England.

Funding will be halved for the year commencing April 2015 and there is, as yet, no government commitment to fund further years of the programme. It seems like yet another complete refusal to believe that the most imperative is needed at ground-level.

“This is not the right time for the government to pare back spending on HIV prevention,” says Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Chief Executive at  ​Terrence Higgins Trust. “In recent years, we have made good progress in driving down rates of undiagnosed and late-diagnosed HIV. However, tens of thousands of people with HIV across England are still undiagnosed and at increased risk of passing the virus on unwittingly. We have not yet reached the tipping point in our fight against the epidemic, and halving government spending on HIV prevention now would be a regressive step that risks undermining the headway we have made.”

The government’s ill-considered decision is in direct contradiction to Simon Stevens’ ‘ ​NHS Five Year Forward View‘, released in October. “The future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health,” he wrote. “Twelve years ago, Derek Wanless’ health review warned that unless the country took prevention seriously we would be faced with a sharply rising burden of avoidable illness. That warning has not been heeded – and the NHS is on the hook for the consequences.”

Stevens’ report has been immensely influential and all the main political parties have expressed their support for its vision for the future of the NHS. It is striking that, within weeks of the government stating its support for the health vision of this publication, they are expressly contradicting one if its key tenets – the absolute centrality of prevention if we are to regain control of NHS finances.

“We have not yet reached the tipping point in our fight against the epidemic, and halving government spending on HIV prevention now would be a regressive step that risks undermining the headway we have made”  – Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Chief Executive, Terrence Higgins Trust

In 2004 there were 38,117 people with diagnosed HIV living in England. In 2013, that figure had risen to 74,760. Meanwhile, funding for HIV prevention work has drastically declined during that same period while transmission rates soared. Rather than increasing its efforts to tackle the spread of HIV and the existing stigma, the government’s response is to further squeeze the sector of its resources.

What’s more shocking still is how the government cuts affect two specific minority communities. The national HIV prevention programme focuses on two groups – men who have sex with men, and black African men and women. Yusef Azad of  ​National AIDS Trust agrees that the government is ignoring the needs of these communities.

“HIV is a health inequalities issue, since it disproportionately affects these minorities. Were British-born heterosexuals seeing the same percentages getting HIV as gay men and Africans there would be immense efforts by government to address the problem. When gay men and Africans experience such a public health crisis the response is to reduce further already inadequate funding.”

What this farce highlights is that the government, yet again, is looking for short-term gain at long-term sacrifice. Save money today, but let’s not think about the consequences of tomorrow.  Azad agrees. “All governments pay lip-service to this principle and to the fact prevention is cost-effective and often cost-saving. It is only in a time of budgetary pressure that we learn whether they really mean it.

Preventing just one HIV transmission saves the public purse ​£360,777, according to recent modelling. The national prevention programme pays for itself many times over. “This cut will not save £1 million, says Azad. “It will mean spending many millions in preventable treatment costs.”

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Young, British, and Living With HIV

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“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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HIV in the UK: 76% diagnosed, 90% on treatment, 90% undetectable

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UK achieves two out of three UNAIDS targets, but undiagnosed infection remains a major problem

The UK’s annual epidemiological report, released yesterday, shows that the country already provides HIV treatment to 90% of people attending clinical services and that 90% of those on treatment have an undetectable viral load. But the country has a long way to go in ensuring that people with HIV are aware of their HIV status – only 76% of people living with HIV have been diagnosed. The problem is particularly acute in black African communities, as only 62% of African heterosexual men and 69% of African heterosexual women living with HIV have been diagnosed.

The figures can be compared to the ambitious targets announced by UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS) earlier in the year: for 90% of all people living with HIV to know their status, 90% of those to be on treatment and 90% of those to have an undetectable viral load. If these figures could be achieved by 2020, the global AIDS epidemic would be over by 2030, UNAIDS said.

The UK appears to have achieved two out of three of the targets, but has a significant problem due to the high rates of undiagnosed infection. Overall, 61% of all people living with HIV in the UK have an undetectable viral load. This contrasts with the 73% that would be achieved if all three of UNAIDS’ 90/90/90 targets were accomplished.

New diagnoses, overall prevalence

Public Health England reports that 6000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the United Kingdom in 2013. The overall figure is lower than that seen a decade ago, due to fewer diagnoses among heterosexual men and women born in high-prevalence African countries. Among gay men, the number of diagnoses is as high as ever, with 3250 cases reported in 2013. An estimated 30% of the gay men diagnosed in 2013 were recently infected with HIV (within six months of their diagnosis).

There are now almost 110,000 people living with HIV in the country, including 26,000 who don’t know they have it. This can be broken down into risk groups:

  • Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (43,500 people; prevalence of 5.9%).
  • Black African heterosexual women (25,100 people; prevalence of 7.1%).
  • Black African heterosexual men (13,600 people; prevalence of 4.1%).
  • Heterosexual women of other ethnicities (10,300 people; prevalence of 0.06%).
  • Heterosexual men of other ethnicities (10,200 people; prevalence of 0.06%).
  • People who inject drugs (2400 people; prevalence of 0.7%).

High rates of undiagnosed infection, especially in black African communities

Overall, 24% of people living with HIV are unaware that they have it. The rates of undiagnosed infection are lowest among gay men (16%) and people who inject drugs (10%).

In relation to black African people, it’s worth noting that in previous epidemiological reports the description of a person as ‘black African’ primarily depended on whether they were born in an African country. In contrast, the new report focuses on a person’s ethnicity, so that someone born in the UK to Nigerian parents is considered in the ‘African’ category. As a result of this and other methodological changes, some of the figures for undiagnosed infection are not directly comparable to previous years’ – and paint a more worrying picture.

In 2013, 31% of black African heterosexual women and 38% of black African heterosexual men who had HIV were unaware of their infection. Rates of undiagnosed infection were somewhat lower among heterosexual people of other ethnicities: 27% in men and 23% in women.

The report also shows that rates of undiagnosed infection are far worse outside London, compared to the capital. Outside London, 41% and 49% of African men and women were undiagnosed. In London, 10% and 13% were undiagnosed. There is some fuzziness to these estimates: the true values could be up to 10% higher or lower than the figures given here. But a clear geographic difference would still be observed. This could reflect stronger community networks and more accessible health services, including targeted prevention, in the capital.

Another way to consider undiagnosed infection is to look at rates of late diagnosis – people diagnosed with a CD4 cell count below 350 cells/mm3. Rates of late diagnosis were highest among heterosexual men (62%) and heterosexual women (51%), with black Africans especially likely to be diagnosed late. The lowest rate of late diagnosis was seen in gay men (31%). Across all groups, older people and non-Londoners were more likely to be diagnosed late.

But progress has been made over the past decade – the overall rate of late diagnosis has gone down from 57 to 42%.

A higher uptake of HIV testing, including more frequent testing, is needed to improve the figures on undiagnosed infection and late diagnosis. The report shows that, at sexual health clinics, 86% of gay male patients take an HIV test, but only 77% of heterosexual men and 67% of heterosexual women do so. Whereas guidelines recommend that all people attending sexual health clinics are offered an HIV test, only one-in-seven clinics test at least 80% of their heterosexual patients. Public Health England recommends that clinics review their policies and training protocols.

But while PHE has been able to collect data on HIV testing in sexual health clinics, none are available for testing in GP surgeries, in other medical settings, or in community settings. A significant improvement in the proportion of people living with HIV who are diagnosed is thought unlikely to occur without improved provision of testing in non-specialist settings, as recommended in guidelines. The report notes that less than one in five of the black-African population attended a sexual health clinic in the previous five years.

“Reductions in undiagnosed infection can be achieved through increasing testing coverage in STI clinics, the introduction and consolidation of HIV testing in a variety of different medical services, in addition to further development of community testing, including self-sampling,” PHE comment.

Quality of care for people living with HIV

Considering the next stages of the ‘treatment cascade’ and the National Health Service’s performance in relation to UNAIDS’ targets, the report shows that 90% of people were linked to care within a month of their diagnosis (98% within three months). Moreover, 95% of those who received care in 2012 were retained in care in 2013. Results did not vary according to age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or geographical area.

Further, 90% of people in care received antiretroviral therapy (up from 69% in 2004). This includes 92% of those with a CD4 cell count below 350 cells/mm3. Of all people taking treatment, 90% had an undetectable viral load, below 200 cells/ml.

Generally there was equality in treatment outcomes, although younger people were less likely to be taking therapy. Moreover, people in both the youngest (15-24 years) and the oldest (over 50) age groups were less likely to have an undetectable viral load.

Guidelines recommend that clinicians discuss treatment as prevention with patients, and give them the option to start treatment early for this reason. Probably as a result, average CD4 cell counts when starting treatment have risen in recent years. In 2013, 25% began treatment with a CD4 cell count between 350 and 500 cells/mm3, and a further 26% did so above 500 cells/mm3.

Article via NAM

For your full copy of the report, click here

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Portrayal of HIV in the media & The Leveson Inquiry

The Prime Minister announced a two-part inquiry investigating the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal, on 13 July 2011.

Lord Justice Leveson was appointed as Chairman of the Inquiry.  The first part will examine the culture, practices and ethics of the media. In particular, Lord Justice Leveson will examine the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians.  He is assisted by a panel of six independent assessors with expertise in key issues being considered by the Inquiry.

The Inquiry will make recommendations on the future of press regulation and governance consistent with maintaining freedom of the press and ensuring the highest ethical and professional standards.

Lord Justice Leveson opened the hearings on Monday 14 November 2011, saying: “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”

A major concern for people living with HIV in the UK and the organisations that support them is the number of articles in the media that sensationalise and stigmatise HIV and unfairly represent individuals living with the virus.

Stories in the media can have a positive effect in increasing people’s awareness of HIV and what it means to live with HIV. However media reports about HIV are often stigmatising or inaccurate. Many stories contribute to a culture of blame about HIV transmission, focusing on so-called irresponsible sexual activity, use judgmental language and stereotype people living with HIV.

Improving the media’s coverage of HIV issues is vital to tackle discrimination experienced by people living with HIV, improve people’s knowledge and help prevent the spread of the virus.

Portrayal of HIV in the media

There are very few public figures who are open about their HIV status, and currently no established characters living with HIV in mainstream soaps or television dramas.   NAT are calling for proactive initiatives to portray realistic HIV stories in the media, with the BBC and Channel 4 taking the lead as part of their statutory duty to promote disability equality.

As well as in the media, NAT would like to see greater, and supportive, visibility for people living with HIV both in cultural representation and public life.

NAT recently made a submission to the Leveson Inquiry, which is examining the culture, practices and ethics of the media, and made the case for the need to tackle the frequent inaccuracies still written about HIV in the press and the use of stigmatising and prejudicial language.  You can read NAT’s submission to the Leveson Inquiry here.

Guidelines on Reporting HIV

NAT and the National Union of Journalists have jointly produced Guidelines on Reporting HIV to help journalists make sure that the articles that they write are not misleading and do not encourage negative perceptions about HIV.

You can read what NAT is saying to editors and journalists to improve reporting on HIV here.

Press Gang

Press Gang is an online group of people living with HIV who are interested in challenging stigmatising coverage in the media and making their voices heard. The National AIDS Trust keep Press Gang members informed of any stigmatising or inaccurate coverage and give them advice on how to challenge it.

Every day they scan many newspapers online and check other media for mentions of HIV and AIDS. Any articles that are identified as stigmatising or inaccurate are sent to Press Gang members via email as a ‘stigma alert’.

Members are then encouraged to write a letter to the editor or add a comment online pointing out why this article is stigmatising or inaccurate and informing readers about the realities of living with HIVin the UK.

If you’re living with HIV and are interested in challenging stigma in the media then you can find out more about find out more about joining ‘Press Gang’ here.

What’s in the news?

NAT scans the media in the UK and worldwide daily for stories relating to HIV and produces a summary of the main stories of the week, with online links to the original article. You can read the latest news here.  Where they identify inaccurate reporting of HIV, they always challenge it.

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