The Sussex Stop AIDS Society drew large numbers to their event evening on February 26th. The evening featured a range of speakers, both national and international, and included participation from local MP Peter Kyle. The five speakers spoke on the issues on the stigma of being HIV positive, and on the problem of getting awareness and treatment. The event was brought to Sussex with collaboration from HIV awareness group ‘Youth Stop AIDS’, as part of the Restless Development agency. This is the 23rd event the Restless Development group have spoken at in 3 weeks, as part of an effort to “put a human face behind the figure” by getting HIV positive speakers to share their stories in their own words.
Susan Cole spoke on behalf of the National AIDS Trust, a collation of many HIV organisation around the country. She spoke on the campaign against government cuts to HIV support centres, cuts affecting particularly at the local level, saying that many local centres are having “the rug pulled out from under them” by the government. She called on the audience to go to stophivcuts.org and write emails to their local council leader, stating that cuts to the support groups for those with HIV are hindering as currently only a third of HIV positive people access support, but 90% of patients that do show improvement. The government as a whole have not yet responded to the stophivcuts movement, but a spokesperson from Oxfordshire council responded, saying;
“It is felt that nationally and internationally the nature of HIV has moved into a more chronic, long-term condition due to the advances in medical management. More people are living longer, healthier lives with HIV and there is less stigma attached to the condition. As a result, the funding of £150,000 was considered no longer appropriate, as service users could avail themselves of other support services provided locally by the county council and their health needs are met by the NHS.”
The MP for Hove and Portslade Peter Kyle, spoke on his perspective as Hove’s 1st openly gay MP. He particularly stressed the importance of awareness and breaking down preconceived stereotypes about HIV. Kyle pointed out that the highest risk of contracting HIV is actually in post-menopausal middle aged women, but the virus is still seen as a “gay disease.” He commented that “stories can be very different depending on where you come from…it’s not one story.”
A speaker from Restless Development, Georgia, spoke on the charity’s goals for the Stop AIDS campaign movement. Their main goal to end AIDs by 2030. When The Badger asked if that goal was ascertainable, another spokesperson for Restless Development said:
“It’s completely doable, it’s just whether or not we’re pushed into action enough and if HIV is seen as a top issue once more… that’s going to be the biggest challenge.”
Georgina went on to say that AIDs as one of the leading causes of death for adolescents, and the leading cause of death for child bearing women, needs much more attention as an issue globally. She spoke out against the current system of medical research that prevents scientists from sharing data at all and focuses mainly on creating drugs for the western market. The meeting of the World Health Organisation in March is a key opportunity to get a an agreement on committing more research to HIV related treatments, and urged people to asked to UK government to support more funding for research. Georgina praised the actions of the Sussex Stop AIDS Society, calling them “one of our strongest youth campaign groups.”
Brian, a HIV positive speaker from Uganda, spoke of the way being HIV positive has affected his life, and the discrimination he has faced because of it. In 2007 Brian lost both of his parents and moved into an orphanage, whereupon he grew ill, and after tests was told he was HIV positive. He spoke on the lack of understanding his classmates and school teachers had about HIV, saying once people found out “everyone went crazy, they thought it was contagious…in their eyes I knew one thing, that my life was completely over.” He was asked to leave his school after faculty found out he was HIV positive. However Brian also spoke on his experience with “turning HIV into an opportunity”, saying “I never dreamt I would be in the UK in my entire life.” Brian talked about the drug shortage in Uganda, and urgency to get people to take medication, and to get medication available to all HIV positive people.
HIV positive speaker George gave his perspective on living with the condition in Britain. He said when he received the news; “I genuinely thought I was going to die…I felt like I was no longer in control.” He spoke on the importance of changing western perspectives on the disease, showing that it can effect anyone and stopping stigma against HIV positive people.
The leader of the Sussex Stop AIDS Society James Cole spoke to The Badger on the support the Sussex Stop AIDS Society has been given by Sussex University;
“The union have been really supportive in terms of our campaigns, on world aids day we did a stunt on campus whereby we got 500 empty drug baggies filled them with fake powder and put a campaign leaflet in them saying that ‘over the last 2 years we’ve had thousands of new legal highs but only 2 new drugs for TB’, we put them all over campus and the union was really supportive of it. In terms of the university, we’ve had limited communication with them as largely our campaigns are targeted at MPs and the international community, not necessarily the university.”
The evening also drew attention to the decriminalisation of sex work campaign, as Student and Sussex Stop AIDS member James Barker spoke on the need to decriminalise prostitution to increase the safety of sex workers, ensuring they have access to health services, and freeing up police time. The Stop AIDS Society meet Wednesdays at 4pm.
Phoebe Day News Sub-editor