HIV in the UK: Meet the young people changing social perceptions
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Nearly thirty years since the British Government’s Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, the virus seems to have largely disappeared from public attention. However there have never been more people living with HIV in the UK than there are now. At the end of 2014, Public Health England discovered that around 1 in every 6 of the estimated 103,700 HIV positive people living in Britain were undiagnosed. There seems to be a worrying lack of awareness in society that needs to be addressed. We no longer need to be afraid of HIV in the UK; there may not be a cure, but there is available treatment to help people with HIV to live long and healthy lives. Despite this, there seems to be a general reluctance to acknowledge and discuss the issue openly. Sat in a bustling café in Brixton, I met with fashion designer Jacob Alexander and filmmaker Danny Germain to discuss the ways in which they are each tackling the issue. Both Alexander and Germain are drawing upon their personal experiences to create projects aimed at encouraging a more informed and open discourse about HIV. Alexander was diagnosed as HIV positive on the morning of his 22nd birthday. At a time when he particularly needed the support of those around him, he received an unkind and insensitive reaction from his best friend. He reflected ‘it was really hard losing people… my best friend was completely different with me and that really hurt’. It highlighted an unnecessary discomfort with HIV that many people seem to share. After being diagnosed with HIV, Alexander became frustrated by the approach medical staff took regarding his treatment. For the most part, he felt that they failed to provide him with sufficient emotional support, having a consistent focus on reducing the risk of him passing the virus on to others. He believes that ‘there is room for improvement for the wellbeing and care for people with HIV, definitely.’ Alexander launched The Positive Project on 25th May 2016 to coincide with the broadcast of a TEDx talk that he had delivered. The project runs alongside his menswear collection JACOB ALXNDR, which debuted at a show followed by a talk by Alexander on 9th June 2016. Utilising the power of technology and the selfie trend to reach global audiences, The Positive Project aims to educate others on HIV, break down the stigma and unite supporters of the cause worldwide. The Positive Project’s app allows users to post selfies of themselves wearing a Positive Project T-Shirt on the app’s Selfie Map. Within the app, there is detailed information on HIV, advice on the protection against transmission of the virus, as well as details about HIV clinics and how to contact them. Alexander’s personal voice runs throughout the app, resulting in a powerful relatability to him and his story. Alexander found inspiration from the 2005 film The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants to use fashion to reach international audiences. He was reminded of the film in January when he walked past a showing of it in Camden. Jacob said he thought “How can I get something around the world?” – ‘I was in bed and it just came to me, I thought “I know, I’ll make an app with selfies and T-shirts.” And it was actually a really good idea!’
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