Student Campaign: ‘Educating on HIV: Tackling Stigmas and Misconceptions’

As part of our International Human Rights module this year, myself and my partners Nicole, Laura and Susanna are running a University of Exeter based campaign called ‘Educating on HIV: tackling stigmas and misconceptions’.

Our campaign is structured as a two-tiered approach, seeking to educate university students about HIV and raise awareness about the accessibility and importance of testing, particularly in Exeter. As part of our campaign, we have created a questionnaire to simultaneously gauge and improve the current level of knowledge about HIV in the general student community. We would be incredibly grateful if you had a moment to fill out this short survey.

HIV stands for ‘human immunodeficiency virus’. It is a virus that “damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease”. Most people diagnosed with HIV contract the virus by engaging in unprotected sexual activity. At present, there is no cure for HIV, but there are extremely effective treatments available that can allow many people to live a relatively normal life. The key to effective treatment, however, is early diagnosis.

Considering how much discussion has taken place around the Covid-19 pandemic, we believe it is important to bring HIV testing back to the forefront of health discourse. The current political and health climate, constructed out of the dominance of Covid-19 in both the systemic and formal agenda, has provided mass-scale enlightenment for the general public regarding the importance of regular testing for viruses. Since a late diagnosis of HIV can lead to serious complications and potential AIDS, a lack of knowledge about testing can be life-threatening. Subsequently, we are
seeking to build upon the medical momentum of Covid-19 testing to parallelly promote HIV testing.

In Exeter, you can access home-testing for HIV. Once you have registered your details online, through the link https://www.test.hiv, you are sent a home testing package in the post which has no identifying logos or indications of what the package is for. The testing pack includes materials for a small blood sample, taken by pricking your finger. Once you have completed your sample, you simply return the box to the provider and you should receive your results shortly. You can also access testing in person through one of the Devon Sexual Health clinics or from your GP.

The National AIDS Trust revealed that, in 2019, the majority of late diagnoses in the UK were among heterosexual men (52%) and heterosexual women (44%), yet the misconception that HIV is ‘not a heterosexual problem’ persists. This ignorance substantially contributes to preventable medical complications and thereby functions as a prejudiced barrier to effective healthcare. As a byproduct of our campaign, we hope to reduce the social stigma and discriminatory rhetoric surrounding the discussion.

Other key aspects of our campaign include producing and posting educational material around campus to encourage the normalisation of conversation, and contacting the student health centre to query their lack of information about HIV on their website underneath the ‘Sexual Health and Contraception’ tab. Our intervention is structured on a university scale, however, wider awareness and normalised public discussion are needed to substantially destigmatize the issue and ensure that people get tested whilst the virus is not so advanced that they no longer have options to keep it manageable.

For more information, or to raise any issues or suggestions, feel free to contact the campaign at ljt229@exeter.ac.uk.

Image: Hiv Testing, Nick Youngson//CC BY-SA 3.0

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