World AIDS Day: Access to social support is one of the most crucial needs for people living with HIV

29 November 2019 . International

World AIDS Day takes place on 1 December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to show support for people living with HIV.

World AIDS day 2019

Glyn Richards, Head of Legal at Bupa Global & UK, recently became a trustee for Positively UK through a Board Match programme organised by Bupa’s community partner East London Business Alliance (ELBA). Positively UK is a charity that provides peer-led support, advocacy and information to everyone living with HIV.

Glyn said, “ELBA’s Board Match programme gives Bupa employees a fantastic opportunity to meet and talk to charities who are looking for support that falls outside more obvious volunteering roles.

After attending two events I applied to several charities I’d met who had a purpose that aligned with my personal values and who were looking for skills that I could offer.

I’m proud to be a trustee at Positively UK. It’s a fascinating role and I’ve been able to bring my knowledge and experience to the board, including providing legal advice, assistance with setting and executing their new 5-year strategy, and providing challenge where needed.”

How does Positively UK support people living with HIV?

“Positively UK has been providing peer support to people with HIV for over 30 years. Due to their campaigning, peer support is now recognised by policy makers and health practitioners as vital for improving the health and wellbeing of people with HIV.

People living with HIV often report that being diagnosed HIV positive is a synonym of being ‘cut off’ from the social spaces they had occupied before their diagnosis. A diagnosis can also trigger internalised stigma, a feeling of being ‘contaminated’ and ‘devalued’.

Positively UK’s services for gay men, women, youth, adolescent and ageing people are designed to improve HIV knowledge, build confidence and self-esteem, and create connections to reduce loneliness and isolation.”

Why is World AIDS Day important?

“HIV stigma still casts a long shadow on the lives of many. A recent survey from Public Health England (2017) showed that one out of 10 people have never told anyone about HIV apart from their health team. One in three had been worried that they would be treated differently to other patients in a healthcare setting, and 11% had experienced discrimination.

What many people don’t know is HIV can be managed effectively with treatment. People living with HIV have the same life expectancy as those without the virus, and with medical treatment HIV cannot be passed on to sexual partners. In other words, undetectable equals un-transmittable, also known as “U=U”. 

There’s still a way to go in educating the general public on PEP and PrEP, two drugs that can reduce the likelihood of a HIV negative person getting HIV shortly before or after exposure.

You recently supported Positively UK with a Bupa Cares Community Grant. How will the funds be used to support the cause?

Many people diagnosed with HIV suffer mental ill health as a result of the social stigma and ostracisation. Access to social support to reduce loneliness and build connections is one of the most crucial needs for people with HIV. 

The community grant will be used to support events that offer opportunities to socialise, form meaningful connections and widen support networks, helping people with HIV by bringing a sense of normality back through regular social events.

A woman, 46, attending Positively UK’s wellbeing workshops and one-to-one support in Brent, said “I am so, so grateful for all the love and care I have received by Positively UK and my consultant. I continue to see the peer support worker for a one-to-one conversations, which I find very empowering and motivating”. 

A man, 62, from Positively UK’s therapeutic horticulture club in King’s Cross said “After my HIV diagnosis 10 years ago, I shut down and turned from a sociable mid-aged man into a grumpy old loner. For years my only joy were my walks through the East London water reservoirs. But this summer I am celebrating life. The gardening and gym sessions put meaning in my life again; I feel healthier and happier. I met other people with HIV, some of them come to my house for a tea and chat. Having no one to talk to for weeks is really hard,but look at me now!”