Fighting the HIV stigma one touch at a time!

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It has been years since HIV was first discovered and despite huge efforts from governments, non-profit organisations, medical experts and scientists to defeat the HIV stigma, there are plenty of people who refrain from even talking to HIV-positive people never mind touching them.

In a bid to fend off this stigma, a new effort saw Finnish broadcasting company Yle Kioski partner with an HIV-positive patient, identified as Janne, for a social experiment. Beyond the social experiment, the project also aimed to promote HIV awareness.

“Finnish guy Janne wanted to show what it is like to live with HIV-related stigma and at the same time raise awareness of HIV. Would you have touched?” reads the description of the YouTube video.

Under the new experiment, Janne created two huge signs – one in English and one in Finnish – that read “I am HIV-Positive. Touch Me!”.

Janne HIV Awareness

Janne went to a public park in Helsinki and placed one sign on either side of where he was standing. He then closed his eyes, spread his arms and waited for anyone who would dare to take his challenge.

Quite a few people initially just walked by – some not even paying attention, while some reading the sign but deciding not to go and touch Janne. However, things change soon enough with people coming in one by one to either tap his shoulder or shake his hand or even hug Janne.

Janne HIV Awareness 2

Published just a week ago, the video has garnered over 1.5 million views.

Can social stigma associated with HIV kill?

Social stigma is pegged one of the worst secondary effects of being diagnosed with HIV / AIDS and researchers have established to a certain extent that social stigma could be one of the factors that people diagnosed with HIV in certain parts of the world have a lower survival rates than HIV patients in other parts of the world.

Researchers at Duke University carried out a research which concluded that southern U.S. had the nation’s lowest five-year survival rate among those diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 2003-2004. Fifteen per cent of people diagnosed with HIV and 27 per cent of those diagnosed with AIDS in that year had died within five years of diagnosis.

Lead author Susan Reif of the Duke Global Health Institute said a number of factors likely contribute to the differences in outcomes seen among individuals living with HIV in the Deep South, including poverty, lower levels of education and insurance coverage, social stigma associated with the disease, and racism.