Stigma of AIDS sadly still lingers
Volunteers of National Service Scheme pose with HIV/AIDS awareness messages on their faces during a face painting competition ahead of the World AIDS Day in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh November 29, 2014. World AIDS Day is observed on December 1 every year. (REUTERS/Ajay Verma)
While AIDS is no longer a death sentence, the stigma lingers around those infected with the virus, according to experts.
Monday is World AIDS Day, an occasion to raise awareness about the virus and commemorate the people who have died.
In the early 1980s, death notices flooded publications and people couldn’t distance themselves far enough from the disease.
Today, medical gains have changed the outcome of those infected with HIV and AIDS, but there’s still a need for research, education and support.
Medications, which had many toxic side effects, became available in the 1990s and soon became significantly better, said Murray Jose-Boerbridge, the executive director of Toronto People With Aids Foundation, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1991.
“It’s quite astonishing to think that someone newly-diagnosed would have a better experience than I did at 23,” said Jose-Boerbridge, 46, who has no answer why he is still healthy when so many lost the battle.
“I figured I’d be long-dead by the time I was 40. Every five years, I’m rethinking what might be possible, which is amazing and exciting because my entire adult life has had this as a back drop ... The biggest thing that hasn’t been addressed is stigma. It may have shifted but it hasn’t decreased and fear is still at the core of the challenge.”
The United Nations’ effort — UNAIDS — has a goal of eradicating the epidemic by 2030.
“To do this we need to ensure that health systems are strengthened to provide the essential services that are needed and civil society has to be supported so it can continue to play its vital role,” UN executive director Michel Sidbe said in a release.
He said the only way to do so is to reach people who are being left behind and denied rights, including young women, sex workers, men who have sex with men, migrants and those who inject drugs.
Jose-Boerbridge doesn’t think it’s realistic to expect to eliminate the disease in just over a decade.
“Things move slowly. I would love to see more capacity across services and support to respond so there will be less infections. We need to think creatively,” Jose-Boerbridge said.
“We need more options to protect ourselves than just a condom and there needs to be other strategies incorporated to protect yourself and others.”
Studies have shown segments of the population, such as some youth and straight women, are dangerously complacent believing it is a chronic but manageable condition treatable with a pill.
The World Health Organization estimates that 32 million people and 3 million children were living with HIV/AIDS in 2013.
More than 20,000 people have proven to be positive for HIV in Toronto since testing began in 1985. More than 3,900 people have died of HIV-related causes, according to the latest statistics from the AIDS Committee of Toronto.