Scotland’s political leaders have united in solidarity today with people living with HIV, challenging stigma, prejudice and calling for improved detection.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and Green co-convener Patrick Harvie stood side-by-side at the steps to the Scottish Parliament, with HIV Scotland’s CEO, George Valiotis, wearing red ribbons to mark World Aids Day.
Sturgeon said: “I am proud that Scotland continues to play a leading role in HIV treatment and prevention, but it is important that we all address the myths and stigma that continue to create barriers for those living with, and at risk of, HIV.”
Nearly 5,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Scotland but it is estimated that one in four people with HIV do not realise carry the virus.
There were 374 new diagnoses of HIV in 2014, with 40% of those diagnosed after the point when treatment should have begun.
Valiotis said: “It is inspiring to see all the leaders of Scotland’s political parties standing united to mark World Aids Day. Their unity symbolises that everyone has a role in addressing HIV.
“There are many misunderstandings that continue to fuel the stigma that hinders people living a dignified life with HIV, and discourages people from getting tested and learning the facts about HIV.
“People from all walks of life and from all parts of Scotland can be affected by HIV, so on World Aids Day it is incumbent upon all of us not to be indifferent but to continue our country’s powerful response by wearing a red ribbon, visiting www.hivscotland.com to learn the facts, and by treating people living with HIV with dignity and respect.”
The Scottish Parliament also passed a motion today on World AIDS Day, recognising its significance, infection rates and health statistics. In addition, it believes that “addressing stigma associated with the virus plays a significant role in ensuring that more people get tested; [and] that new studies have shown PrEP offers part of the solution to curb transmission, and commends what it sees as the work of HIV Scotland in improving the involvement of people living with, or affected by, HIV to develop policy and in raising awareness among decision-makers.”
Valiotis told KaleidoScot: “We are pleased MSP Siobhan McMahon has put forward the motion which received cross party support. It is encouraging that all of Scotland’s political parties recognise that HV is a key issue and there still is a lot more work to be done.”
An HIV activist, who preferred to remain anonymous, told KaleidoScot that while it is encouraging there is a cross party support for dealing with HIV issues in Scotland, “politicians should also concentre on real actions, beyond PR exercises.
“Firstly, sexual health and relationship education is not mandatory in Scotland’s schools, in fact, in some schools it is not only not taught but religious views can adversely affect stigma and therefore risky behaviour. How can moral education be compulsory while the right for health and relationship information that can save and improve lives, is not? Politicians should urgently address this.”
The activist also added: “Secondly, the Scots law regarding HIV transmission, stigmatises people living with HIV, by focusing on the behaviour of the defendant, which has to prove it was not ‘reckless’ rather than harm caused. This law not only is based on wrong, outdated premises but institutionalises stigma. Politicians should therefore urgently revise it if they are sincere in the statements they made today.”
Valiotis responded by stating that legally there has been some progress: “since there has been an amendment to the prosecution policy there have been no prosecutions by procurator fiscal for the past three years. Furthermore, HIV Scotland is very encouraged with the collaborative work police Scotland to improve their investigation procedures, so they are less disruptive to people who are investigated.
“If people have concerns or experiences related to investigations we encourage to them to get in touch with us, so we can challenge Police Scotland’s conduct,” he added.
“Looking further ahead,” said Valiotis, “there is a lot more that can be done, for example, PrEP is great opportunity to take more innovative action, where Scotland can take inspiration from its introduction in France.
“We would also like the Scottish Parliament to introduce mandatory sexual health and HIV education to schools.“