Most people would not dream of responding to hearing of a friend or family member’s cancer diagnosis with a ‘serves you right’ or endless questions about how they acquired their illness. Instead, friends, family and colleagues will rally round, show compassion and possibly start coming up with ideas for sponsored events to raise funds for treatment or relevant charities.
But those who have an HIV-positive diagnosis are still likely to be the victims of judgment, shunning or blame, even from family or loved ones. We may have progressed in HIV treatment and many attitudes around it, but a positive diagnosis will still mean that some people think it is okay to ask how it was acquired, make judgements on the lifestyle of the person diagnosed and express concerns for their own safety.
So, ‘why am I not surprised?’ can often be the first thing that an HIV-positive person hears when they tell a friend or colleague. It’s not exactly the kind of reaction that makes you want to share your diagnosis or feel safe doing so.
Some people have simply not moved on from the attitudes that surrounded HIV when it was first discovered and that initially made it hard to treat, hard to stop spreading and hard for anyone to admit to having. Many still associate an HIV-positive diagnosis with promiscuity, poor lifestyle choices or what they see as ‘sexual deviancy’. They simply can’t see it as an illness that needs prevention, a cure and care for those unlucky enough to contract it.
As with any illness, the way that someone is treated by those around them will impact on their mental and physical health. Being negative about their diagnosis and questioning how they got into a situation where they contracted it is far from helpful. At the raTrust we believe in educating people about HIV, so that they realise that helping, caring for and making time for friends who are HIV-positive is just the same as being considerate about anyone else who has an illness.
Real friends don’t shame or judge someone with an HIV-positive diagnosis. They think how they would like to be treated, they put an arm around your shoulders and they care. We like to think that the raTrust can be a friend in cases where there is not a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on. We also like to think that our work in education will mean that we are needed less and less.
Dominika Rejmer – Director and founder, The raTrust.