HIV Stigma Still Common in Europe, Survey Finds

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As a gay man, I was proud of the response that the gay community mounted in the early days of the epidemic.

-- José M. Zuniga, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Public perception of people living with HIV still carries plenty of stigma, José M. Zuniga, Ph.D., M.P.H., president of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC), said in an interview with IFARA at AIDS 2018. IAPAC recently surveyed 24,000 people not living with HIV about their knowledge of the virus, attitudes toward HIV-positive people, and use of HIV prevention methods. The "Is HIV Sorted?" survey was conducted in 12 European countries that are participating or plan to participate in the Fast-Track Cities program. The goal of this IAPAC initiative is to achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals and curb stigma and discrimination in select cities by 2020.

However, many survey respondents still believed that people living with HIV should not be allowed to work in hospitals, restaurants, or universities, among other occupations, and 68% said they would be uncomfortable dating someone who was HIV positive. Despite these misconceptions, respondents called for government investment in the HIV response. This was also true of people in Eastern Europe, where homosexuality is still criminalized in certain countries.

While the response of the LGBT community during the early days of the pandemic was encouraging, that engagement has leveled off. Zuniga urged LGBT organizations to step up again and help end the HIV epidemic. In particular, information about undetectable equals uninfectious or U=U -- that someone on HIV treatment who has an undetectable viral load cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partner -- needs to be disseminated more widely. This messaging, along with treatment information, will help to "normalize" HIV as just another chronic disease, and thus counter stigmatizing perceptions, Zuniga believes.

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