My name is Kasia. I am an ordinary kind of girl. I have a job, a boyfriend and loving parents. I am no different than other girls. However, there is one moment I feel different and inferior. It’s when I reveal that I am HIV positive.
Many people change the way they look at me. They are afraid to shake hands with me or drink from the same glass. The fear makes me as a person no longer relevant, says a petite blond who featured in the Psychology of Health Center’s spot. The spot is part of the HIVocrisy. Let’s Cure It campaign designed to change public perceptions of HIV infected persons.
Discrimination Worse Than Disease
The HIV awareness is extremely low among Poles. According Prof. Zbigniew Izdebski’s 2011 Sexuality of Poles study, as many as 20 per cent of respondents claim that HIV may be contracted by touching a person suffering from AIDS. Nearly the same percentage (25%) believe this is possible while sharing a meal with someone and 51 per cent think they can get infected as a result of using public toilets.
– While HIV is perceived as a medical condition in the West, it still triggers discrimination and fear in Poland. As time goes by, the level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS is deteriorating in our society and we are becoming less tolerant of people living with HIV, says Małgorzata Kruk, President of the Psychology of Health Center.
According to the Stigma Index 2011 survey, which is a global study of discrimination against people living with HIV conducted in over 50 countries, 20 per cent of people living with HIV have experienced social exclusion, 14 per cent have been rejected by their own families and 13 per cent have had to move home.
The authors of the campaign claim the medical condition itself, which can quite easily be brought under control with drugs these days, is not as big a problem as the accompanying social stigmatisation and discrimination.
Whatever Have You Been Doing?
– When I said I was infected I saw utter amazement in people’s eyes. Whatever have you been doing, what’s happened? Because in people’s minds I do not match the profile of infected people, admits Kasia, the face of the campaign, who has been living with the virus for the past three years.
There is still a strong belief that the disease mainly affects ‘the dregs of society’. This is exactly the profile of a seropositive person that emerges from the Review of National Media Coverage of HIV and People Living with HIV in Poland, a report developed by the ‘One World’ HIV/AIDS Prevention and Support Association. In 551 reviewed articles in opinion-making national media in Poland, HIV was nearly only covered in the context of gay men, sex workers and sex criminals. Unless it is a child, the seropositive person will often portrayed as someone who ‘had it coming’ and is now a threat to the population.
Meanwhile, Małgorzata Kruk, President of the Psychology of Health Center, argues that it is not homosexual people or drug users who are the leading group affected by the growing number of infections but heterosexual individuals.
– Ever since I made a decision to live a normal life I have felt very much disturbed by discrimination I have experienced every day. It no longer affects me a lot, possibly also because I have decided to fight against this. I have learned about the Foundation and this is how this idea for a campaign came about, replies Kasia.
The key message of the Campaign is demonstrating that it is easier to recover medically than socially with HIV. The main driver of the HIVocrisy. Let’s Cure It campaign were the earlier campaigns organised by the Foundation.
– While developing the ‘H as in HIV’ campaign we asked our friends and colleagues if they thought an HIV positive child should attend school with healthy children. A vast majority said YES, but when asked what about their own child among them, 99 per cent said NO. It’s incredible that tolerance in our society comes from the fact that we have never come across such an individual and we refuse to believe we may actually know someone like this. Tolerance ends when we realise that HIV may in fact affect our close ones and friends, says Małgorzata Kruk.
Dont’ Be a HIVocrite
HIVocrisy is hypocrisy towards people with HIV. Symptoms? On the surface, we accept infected individuals but our behaviour changes on learning that they are around us. Then we make a step back. Suddenly, we no longer want to work with that person, use the same cutlery or shake hands, reads the campaign website at www.hivokryzja.pl
This is why the campaign targets healthy people and its objective is to treat the hypocrisy around HIV-infected individuals. HIVocrisy comes from ignorance too. We fear things we do not understand. Besides spots, the campaign will include street performance, city action games, sticker art placed in popular venues with a message that you cannot get infected with HIV by sharing the same glass, using the same money or using the same toilet. The campaign is due to end in April 2016.
Find out more: www.hivokryzja.pl