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Why prejudice surrounding HIV still needs tackling: the Dallas Buyers Club.

Posted: 01/07/2014

I watched Dallas Buyers Club recently, which if you haven’t seen, is a film about a Texas Rodeo who contracts HIV in the 1980s, and sets up clandestine treatment centres for people living with HIV.  The film reminded me of the extreme prejudice and discrimination that people with HIV faced in the 1980s and some of the horrific stories of discrimination I was told about by my clients who lived in the 80s.   And how fear about HIV/AIDS brought out the best and the worst in people.   I have worked as a clinical psychologist in Sexual Health and HIV for over a decade now, and thankfully the bleak days of the early HIV epidemic are gone.  New treatments mean people with HV can have a normal life expectancy and treatment can prevent transmission.  Recently I have heard stories from clients and friends where people with HIV were rejected or shunned by someone because they disclosed their status.  This made me think that perhaps attitudes to HIV have not evolved as much as the medical treatments.  I think shame and stigma were always the biggest obstacles to HIV prevention and treatment efforts – they are a key reason why people don’t test – and starting treatment late can affect treatment outcome.   Prejudice may not be expressed as grotesquely as in Dallas Buyers Club any more, but the shame and stigma surrounding HIV needs to continue to be an important part of prevention and treatment efforts

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