The great misunderstanding of HIV/AIDS

Ex-Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas recently announced that he is HIV positive, but he didn't do it because he was ready.

"I've been threatened by people who said they would give away my secret. It's sick and I've been through hell," he said in an interview for BBC Newsbeat. 

In the end he decided it to announce because the secret was '[his] to tell'. And it is.


It's 2019 and some people would argue that we have all reached a generally acceptable level of progression. So why is it that someone's diagnosis could still be used as blackmail? Gareth reflects on this stating "I was being blackmailed and, in my mind, I thought you only get blackmailed for something really bad, which compounded the feeling of shame."

There is still stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS that is accepted and shared widely in the general public. The lack of education and awareness on this means that our modern society remains a toxic place for people who are HIV positive.

People are unaware of the reality of HIV, which leads to common knowledge being based on the exaggerated lies that breed more hate and intolerance. It is alarming that we live in a society where it is terrifying to be able to exist as a HIV positive person. People who are living positive are being met with rejection and hate where they should be offered support and understanding.

Queen’s Freddie Mercury is one of the most prolific victims of AIDS from the 80s crisis.

Queen’s Freddie Mercury is one of the most prolific victims of AIDS from the 80s crisis.


Why are we still so behind in our awareness and attitude towards HIV/AIDS?  Well, if we live in a society where the only knowledge people have of HIV/AIDS comes from Family Guy jokes and 30+ year old information, how can we even begin to combat this issue? We must spread awareness and we must fight the ideas that other people who are living positive. Many of us still have many misconceptions that have been planted by society and have grown in what we now consider facts about HIV/AIDS.

So, let’s start the conversation. We’ll go through some common misconceptions and replace them with real knowledge and awareness.


It only affects the older generation.

The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s looms so large in the mind of the general public that most understanding of it comes from that time, and is therefore 30+ years outdated. It also means there’s a false sense of HIV/AIDS being a problem that existed in a small vacuum of time, and then went away. There are 3100 under 24s known to have HIV in the UK. Some of which where born with it. There are so many young people who have to navigate through living a society that is for the most part, misinformed and intolerant towards their condition.

It's a gay disease.

The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80s framed it this way, but it is not a ‘gay disease’. It’s also not only men who have HIV. There are people from every sexuality, race, and age living with it. It can affect anyone. It is not something that exists only within the gay community. HIV does not discriminate.


It's a death sentence.

Of course, a positive HIV diagnosis is not something to be taken lightly, but with modern treatments, the diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. HIV is treated by antiretroviral medications, which work by stopping the virus replicating in the body. This allows the immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage. A combination of HIV drugs is used because HIV can quickly adapt and become resistant. The earlier you start treatment the more effective it can be. If you take your medication correctly and regularly, it’s possible to reach a state where the virus is ‘undetectable’, which means it can no longer be passed on. It’s as close to a ‘cure’ as is possible, though it’s important to understand that having Undetectable status does not mean you are no longer HIV positive.


You won't be able to have children.

Women living with HIV can have healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies without passing on HIV. If both partners are on treatment, the risk of either partner transmitting HIV to their baby is less than 1%.


You can get it through sharing a cup.

HIV is not spread by air or water. Nor is it by saliva, tears, or sweat. No, you cannot get it by shaking hands; hugging; sharing toilets; sharing dishes, silverware, or drinking glasses; or engaging in closed-mouth or “social” kissing with a person with HIV.

We still have a long way to go in terms of spreading awareness and fighting against the hate that comes with living with HIV. But the more we speak out about it the less it becomes this mysterious and shameful force. Living with HIV should not be something that brings so much shame that it can be used as blackmail. The only way we can change that is through breaking the stigma and challenging people’s understanding of what it means to be HIV+.

Lastly, make sure you get tested. It may not seem like something that could happen to you. But it can happen to anyone.