A mum from Glasgow has told of how groundbreaking HIV treatment has meant she can live a “normal, healthy life” but that the stigma must end.
Emma McAnally was diagnosed the virus in 2016 when she was 27 years old.
“I was in total disbelief as I thought this was something that would never affect me,” she said.
“But I was reassured by the doctor that medication would allow me to live a normal, healthy life, and this would also mean I would not be able to pass the virus onto others.”
In 1987, the UK Government launched an HIV awareness campaign that saved lives but terrified a generation.
Featuring falling tombstones, the advert’s message was “it’s a deadly disease and there’s no known cure”.
40 years on, the first major new TV advert on HIV is to air in Scotland on STV on Monday night.
Its aim is to tackle the stigma associated with the condition.
“HIV hasn’t limited my hopes and aspirations in any way, but the stigma has been the single biggest barrier of my diagnosis,” Ms McAnally, who is now 34, said.
“Unfortunately, this stigma deeply affected me, my family and friends didn’t know how to respond and it was pretty horrific for me.
“Eventually, I became determined not to let that shame define me – having children was the biggest turning point for me as I became so confident in my body and by being on effective treatment, knew I could give birth to my son and daughter and they would be HIV negative.
“It’s incredible to see a long overdue TV advert on the reality of HIV in 2023 and how stigma is now more harmful than the virus itself.
“I hope it helps people living with HIV who are struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis feel a little bit less alone and also educates and raises awareness.”
The new advert is informed by Scottish Government funded research from YouGov into attitudes and beliefs about HIV in Scotland and produced by Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity.
The research found worryingly low levels of knowledge about HIV. Just one third (35%) of people in Scotland would be happy to kiss someone living with HIV, despite it being known since the 1980s that HIV can’t be passed on through saliva.
The data also shows almost half (46%) of people in Scotland would be ashamed to tell other people they were HIV positive – demonstrating just how stigmatised a condition HIV remains today.
The reason why stigma is now more harmful than HIV is because of the huge medical progress in treating HIV.
Treatment works by suppressing levels of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, which means the immune system is protected from damage and HIV cannot be passed on to partners. But a lack of knowledge about this progress fuels stigma, negatively impacts people living with HIV and makes others too scared to get tested.
The campaign was developed in partnership with NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Public Health Scotland, University of Strathclyde, Waverley Care, Our Positive Voice and Scottish Drugs Forum.
It was then produced by award-winning Scottish agency Stand, which was behind Police Scotland’s high profile ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign to reframe the conversation on sexual violence and male sexual entitlement. It’s hoped this new campaign will result in important discussions about the realities of HIV today.
For more information about HIV and the campaign visit hivstigma.scot
Richard Angell, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “The Government’s AIDS awareness advert in the 1980s undoubtedly saved lives, but it also cast a long shadow by terrifying a generation about HIV. That’s why it is high time we update everyone’s knowledge about the incredible progress that’s been made in the fight against HIV over the last 40 years by bringing it back into millions of living rooms.
“Our new film is based on the direct experiences of people living with HIV in Scotland who shared how much of a challenge the stigma still surrounding HIV is in their day-to-day lives.
“In hospital, on dating apps and even in their own homes. Which is why, alongside all the good news about HIV today, we knew we had to show how devastating HIV-related stigma can be for those directly impacted. I hope millions will see our advert in the weeks ahead and be motivated to learn the facts and ditch the fiction about HIV.”
Danielle Kelly, STV’s director of strategy and sales Scotland, said: “When the team at Terrence Higgins Trust came to us with a proposal for Scotland’s first HIV awareness TV campaign in four decades, the STV Growth Fund was available to help them bring it to life.
“By utilising STV’s unrivalled reach across Scotland, the charity will bring the real experiences of HIV stigmatisation right to the forefront of the nation’s minds with this powerful campaign.”
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