It's time to stop the stigma
In 2008, at the 17th International AIDS Conference, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed The Stigma Factor.
He stated that, “Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is the main reason too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions...We can fight stigma. Enlightened laws and policies are key. But it begins with openness, the courage to speak out. Fortunately, more and more people are finding their voices...”
Does HIV Look Like Me? International Society (DHLLMI) is an organization based in Vancouver, Canada, that focuses on reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.
The launch of their latest video, called “Stop the Stigma”, comes from the recognition that HIV today has changed. In the last 10 years, with the advances in research, treatment has become more simple and accessible in countries like Canada. People are living longer and healthier lives, enjoying healthy relationships and having families. However, stigma is still a huge barrier to their health and well being.
“Our video features individuals who are more than just people living with HIV. They are triathletes, mothers and grandmothers. They have hopes and dreams just like all of us, but often bear the burden of stigma,” says Natalie Chan, Board Chair of DHLLMI, “The importance of this video lies in their stories, which are meant to clarify some common misconceptions about HIV. We made this video purely through the contribution of volunteers, without any funding, and it is beautiful. I am grateful for the bravery and honesty of all our participants.”
The overarching goal with the launch of this video is for DHLLMI to find appropriate sponsors and partners to support the development of a Does HIV Look Like Me? Canada campaign.
With the support of a national media sponsor and strong community partners, this campaign will have a long-term impact. The HIV-positive Ambassadors will receive small grants, and support to begin their work in HIV leadership. “Everyday I am amazed by the way people think about HIV, and how the messages surrounding HIV continue to foster stigma,” says Executive Director Brandy Svendson, “There are a lot of stereotypes out there that I felt needed to be addressed and that is what motivated me to push for the creation of this video. My hope is that the people who see our video will get excited and want to get involved with the Does HIV Look Like Me? Canada campaign."
As an organization, DHLLMI acknowledges that the experience and perspective of Positive Leaders is key to addressing the needs of communities, and is a valuable tool to challenging the public perception of what it means to be living with HIV today. The idea of involving people living with HIV was formally adopted as a principle at the Paris AIDS Summit in 1994, where 42 countries declared the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV and AIDS (GIPA) to be critical to ethical and effective national responses to the epidemic. DHLLMI carries this value into their everyday operations by ensuring PLWH/A are central to all their work and decision making.
They believes that leadership by people living with HIV, AIDS (PLWH/A) is a key component to real change in the fight against HIV. They provide training and opportunities that facilitate the empowerment of PLWH/A to become leaders in their communities. Their goal is to motivate individuals to create change in their lives and/or their communities. This change could be in the form of giving someone the courage to disclose, to get tested or to not be afraid to love someone who is HIV positive - even if that person is themselves.
"There is still much work to be done to undo the blame and shame directed at People Living With HIV everyday," says Dirceu Campos, Treasurer of the DHLLMI Board of Directors, longtime PLWH/A activist and one of the participants of the video. “Our campaigns give us an opportunity to reach out to our communities and supporters around the world to create a cutting edge media campaign, that will help us foster new leaders in the HIV movement”.
It was less than three years ago that Brandy Svendson was working as the International Campaign Director for the American HIV organization producing the Does HIV Look Like Me? campaigns. Having recognized the opportunity within the success and impact of those campaigns, she envisioned a long term organization dedicated to showing the human face of HIV, and to developing the next generation of HIV leaders. In 2009, Brandy started Does HIV Look Like Me? International Society. To date, Does HIV Look Like Me? International media campaigns and leadership trainings have taken place in the USA, South Africa, Swaziland, Norway and Thailand.
Often Canadian HIV campaigns are focused provincially, or locally. With the momentum created by this video, they are ready to kick off the first national HIV campaign of its kind, Does HIV Look Like Me? Canada.