Poll: Sexual health charity warns of “unacceptably high level of stigma” around HIV

HIV sufferers in Colchester have been bullied at work, forced to move house and denied treatment at a dental surgery, it has been claimed.

Terrence Higgins Trust, a sexual health charity, says there is an “unacceptably high level of stigma” over the condition in north-east Essex.

The charity is leading a campaign called ‘Stand Up, Stand Out’ to raise awareness and funds to battle the stigma of HIV.

Lucy, a 32-year-old from Colchester, said she had to leave her job after telling her employers she wanted to speak out about the condition.

She added: “When I talk to people they are quite scared and people say I don’t look like a person who should have HIV, because I’m white, middle class and educated.

“More recently I had quite a good job but I decided I wanted to be more outspoken. I felt like nobody ever talks about it so nobody knows anything and the cycle just continues. If everybody like me felt they could talk about it, it would be better, it would raise awareness.

“But my employer said I was not allowed to so I ended up leaving. I know I should have challenged it but I did not want to cause trouble.”

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The mother-of-one, asked why there is such stigma around HIV, said: “There was all these horrible adverts in the 1980s and I think that stigmatised the homosexual community, drug users or people that are very promiscuous. People think everyone with HIV fits into one of these categories.

“But the majority of people have been absolutely lovely, they don’t know much about it and they ask me lots of questions.”

Terrence Higgins Trust said there had been three incidents in Colchester this year that had seen people with HIV discriminated against. It said one person was forced to move house after neighbours attacked their home, another was too afraid to return to work after being bullied by colleagues, and another was refused treatment by a dentist because they had the condition.

Sarah Fuhrmann, regional manager for Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Thirty years on from the beginning of the epidemic, HIV remains surrounded by a level of stigma unmatched by any other medical condition.

“All over the country, our centres come into contact with people who have been routinely discriminated against in the workplace, barred from venues and services, disowned by their families, attacked and sometimes seriously hurt all because they have contracted a virus that can be easily controlled with medication. This needs to change.”

The trust said there were 4,700 people accessing HIV care in the east of England last year, 340 of whom were new cases.

For more information on Stand Up, Stand Out visit www.tht.org.uk/worldaidsday

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