BLOG – Chasing Zero Stigma

 

Student Ambassador Abi Alsop writes from Manchester about complacency and conquering HIV at her University.

People say ignorance is bliss. Yet, I’m also told that knowledge is the antidote to fear. This poses a difficult question. Would I rather be dwelling in complete disregard or in a jarring awareness of reality?

As young people I think we are often faced with this juxtaposition. Many under 25 year olds are on the blade-edge of ignoring the worlds issues and leaving them to the ‘real adults’, or actually confronting them head on with great drive and passion.

For me, HIV has always been a far off issue from my happy, secure and relatively privileged student life. I was well versed on the statistics and appalled by the prevalence of such a treatable virus. Yet, never fully grasped what it would look like, how it would feel, and why so many people were still concerned with it in this modern time.

 

Here’s some information on HIV if you’re unaware of the virus:

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that is contracted through bodily fluid during unprotected sex, contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles or from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. The virus attacks your body’s immune system decreasing its ability to fight off other viruses, infections and bacteria. Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. Whilst no cure for HIV currently exists, it can be controlled with proper medical care.

Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART or ARVs). If someone is HIV positive and is receiving effective treatment, they can have a fairly normal life expectancy and their chances of infecting others are reduced by 96%, which means treatment can also be used as prevention!

University Student are a key demographic for HIV awareness

Being a Chasing Zero Ambassador has opened my eyes to the importance of talking about HIV and AIDS within the student community. AIDS is one of the biggest killers among young people worldwide. Additionally, a quarter of people in the UK living with AIDS do not know they are infected. So, no, ignorance really isn’t the paradise we’re sold. Through education and raising awareness of the realities of HIV we can chase zero HIV/AIDS related deaths.

I recently attended an event hosted by Youth Stop Aids (Manchester), a youth-led movement campaigning for a world without AIDS. The event offered an opportunity to hear first-hand the inspiring stories of young people overcoming the toughest hurdles to make a change. The evening moved people to tears and laughter as their powerful stories weaved together humour, positivity and their emotionally hard-hitting experiences.

We heard tales of rejection, humiliation, broken relationships, tormenting mental illness, yet amongst all this pain was hope. Hope in the knowledge and understanding of the virus that had made a home in their bodies. Hope in the ground-breaking research and medicines that help them to lead ‘normal’, healthy lives. Hope in the support they found in the HIV positive community and beyond. Hope that we can end AIDS.

Student Ambassador Abi Alsop at a society event for World Aid's day
Reflecting on that evening I realised how I, a reasonably well educated campaigner for ending AIDS still clung to the age-old stigma of the virus. If I’m honest, I committed the act least desired by the amazing young people who spoke – I made them a statistic.

I categorised them, labelled them, and didn’t fully challenge my views of HIV and its impact. In order to break the perpetuating cycle of stigma, visibility, honesty and powerful story sharing is key. After all, at the centre of campaigning and activism are human beings. Therefore, complacency is a killer.

The speakers Jimmy, Beccy and Krishen aren’t facts or medical cases. They’re people. They’re 20- something’s with jobs, families, dreams and passion. Their desire for advocacy was tangible. The rawness of their emotion could be felt through the cracking of their voices and seen in the deep furrows on their forehead.

The main message – we can beat AIDS, but It Ain’t Over.

We wrote to the government and to local MPs to urge them to re-prioritise tackling HIV and AIDS globally and lead the world in beating it by 2030. Going forwards I am hoping to partner as a Chasing Zero Student Ambassador with the Youth Stop Aids society at the University of Manchester to raise the profile of HIV on campus. As the enigmatic human rights campaigner Nelson Mandela once said,

‘In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/AIDS, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people.’

 

This learning experience has re-written my perspective on HIV. I’m now more positive (Excuse the accidental pun) and excited than ever that we, young people, can have a role in making history.

Together we can beat AIDS.

 

Chase zero with us!

Every year is crucial now as we chase the goal of the end of AIDS by 2030. It’s vital we keep up the momentum. Will you get involved in 2017? Join the chase and help make history!

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