By Karen Dickinson
Today is World AIDS Day, an initiative for people all over the world to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for those living with HIV and remember people who have died. This year the campaign celebrates the fact that in the UK there have been the first significant reductions in HIV diagnoses for gay men in London, thanks to frequent testing, rapid treatment and PrEP. But there is a need to grow this success so that it includes everybody at risk, across the UK. The fight is not just about the virus. For the more than 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, ignorance and discrimination can still limit opportunities, preventing them from living full and happy lives. HIV means you are more likely to live in poverty, and more likely to have poor mental health. Therefore, we need a new burst of energy to end stigma, end HIV transmission and end the isolation experienced by people living with HIV, for good.
Aside from being a problem in its own right, Gender-based Violence (GBV) also has an effect on the spread of HIV. The World Health Organisation has said: “Violence against women constitutes an urgent an urgent public health problem worldwide, particularly in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic“, and research by UNAIDS has found that women women are 55% more likely to be HIV-positive if they have experienced intimate partner violence. The Brigstowe Project, a Bristol-based charity that works to improve the quality of life for people living with or affected by HIV, states: “HIV is a cause as well as an effect of inequality. Homelessness, domestic violence [and] poverty all increase the risk of HIV transmission. And having HIV increases the risk of homelessness, domestic violence, poverty [and] mental health issues.” Infection rates in Bristol are still rising, and in 2014 the city became an area of high-prevalence of HIV, with over 2 in every 1000 people now living with the virus.
The Brigstowe Project is for people who are affected by HIV and need help with housing, welfare benefits, isolation, difficulty coming to terms with a diagnosis, debt, immigration, and many other issues. With support from the Terence Higgins Trust, they are holding a candlelit vigil at College Green in the centre of Bristol today, December 1st, at 5.30pm to remember those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS and to challenge the HIV stigma. Part rememberance, part celebration, part action. People with gather at College Green at 5:30pm for a short, very visible walk to St James Priory where they will hear testimonies from those living with HIV, remember those who have been lost and hear about what we can all do now in the fight against HIV and HIV stigma.