On Wednesday 28th November, MSPs held a debate to mark World AIDS Day 2017, which takes place on the 1st December each year.
The day presents an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.
Over 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK, with over 6,000 of those in Scotland. Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Although scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and more is understood about the condition – each year in the UK around 6,000 people are diagnosed with HIV, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.
Speaking in the debate, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, Ruth Maguire, underlined how stigma is one of the main issues still to be overcome – as well as highlight that progress that Scotland has made to tackle HIV in recent years.
“Stigma is perhaps the biggest issue facing those living with HIV in Scotland, with many people left ostracised and with poor health and social outcomes – such as mental ill-health, anxiety, and suicidal feelings.
Stigma is also one of the biggest barriers to testing, treatment and support. HIV Scotland estimate that around 13% of people with HIV in Scotland are unaware of their status – with fear of a positive diagnosis discouraging individuals from getting tested and engaging with health services.
The stigma and fear around testing can lead to late diagnosis, which negatively impacts on a person’s quality of life and life expectancy.
So we must all continue to work hard to end HIV related stigma, through education in our schools and through Scotland’s wider HIV anti-stigma strategy.
We must continue to raise awareness about the fact that everyone has an HIV status and encourage people to get tested.
And we must continue to ensure that people living with HIV have access to the medical and emotional support that they need to lead fulfilling and healthy lives.
At the time time, there is quite a bit to take pride in.
We can take pride in the fact that, by ensuring access to new medicines and treatments to treat HIV, we are a global leader in HIV policy.
We can take pride in becoming the first country in the United Kingdom to offer PrEP on the NHS.
We can take pride in the fact that last year’s figure for new reported cases of HIV, at 317, was the lowest annual figure to be recorded since 2003.
And we can take pride in Scotland’s HIV anti-stigma strategy, “Road Map to Zero”. This will provide the foundations for Scotland’s HIV anti-stigma strategy action plan, which will be published in 2018.
I look forward to seeing that strategy and, in the meantime, would encourage everyone, particularly MSPs, to use whatever influence we have to tackle HIV-related stigma wherever we see it and whenever we can.”