December 1st is World AIDS Day. A few days ago, a survey reported that:
"One in seven young people in Britain would not stay friends with someone who had HIV...Almost half of the 300 people aged 14 to 25 surveyed said they would want to keep it a secret if a relative had HIV."To me, this is one of the saddest steps back in the twenty-six years since AIDS was discovered, twenty-four since HIV was identified as the cause. While you can live for many years before developing symptoms, leading a normal life, the support of family and friends is invaluable - and that's before the illnesses associated with the syndrome develop.
It distresses me to see this stigma preventing people living with HIV or AIDS from being able to confide in others.
This year's message is about talking about the disease - to tackle prejudice and stigma - and this theme particularly resonates with me.
Seven years ago, my friend Paul died of AIDS. He had been my boss - and a very good one too, as we remained friends after I left. Only family and a few of his closest friends knew about his diagnosis - the rest of us only found out when he died. I think Paul didn't tell people because, primarily, he didn't want to be pitied - but who wants to be dealing with other folks' ignorance every day?
He was an amazing guy - one of the most energetic and vital people I knew. There was always a new scheme or project to be excited about; and he loved people and animals. A bank loan was taken out to allegedly buy a valuable painting of a racehorse... there was a racehorse alright - but it was old and needed rescuing from an early trip to a glue factory. Paul was passionate about doing the right thing.
I'm not sure if he ever realised how well thought of he was. I hope so. It was standing room only in the church. The funeral cortege was so long that the last section of the procession got lost between the church and the crematorium, when traffic lights changed. We were in the car at the front of this motley crew and thought that perhaps there were only a couple of cars and bikes behind us. When we turned down a side street to ask for directions, ten or twelve cars came along. Paul would have enjoyed that.
So, for this World AIDS Day I am going to do my own fundraising. For every person who posts a comment on my blog, at any time this month, I will pay 10p to the Terrence Higgins Trust who offer a wide range of support services to people living with HIV/AIDS and their families:
- emotional support and information by phone
- help with accessing HIV testing and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment
- advice about your rights in benefits, employment, immigration and housing
- treatment advice
- contact with support groups
- help with accessing grants, respite and complementary therapies
- education for the community about HIV and sexually transmitted infections
- legal advice for those living with HIV
- written information and leaflets