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Your interview: Chief executive of The Sussex Beacon Simon Dowe
2:00pm Saturday 21st September 2013 in News
GEOFFREY ORTON, email: How do you think attitudes and perceptions about HIV have changed since Beacon first started 21 years ago?
SIMON DOWE (SD): Attitudes and perceptions haven’t changed enough and there are still high levels of stigma attached to HIV.
Another issue that we face is that there is a perception that it is easy to live with HIV – that you can simply take a pill and it goes away.
We should never underestimate what a difficult virus HIV is to live with.
People report chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, depression, social isolation and side-effects from medication.
The side-effects of HIV medication and effects of the virus itself can cause further complications including heart disease, early-onset dementia and cancer.
Psychological and social issues are also common such as difficulty finding employment and family and relationship breakdown.
Many of these issues are exacerbated by the stigma of HIV.
PHILLYS COTTEE, phone: Is there still a fear or a misunderstanding around HIV? What modern misconceptions still need to be tackled?
SD: There is still a great deal of fear around HIV, mainly based on a lack of education about the virus.
For example, there is still ignorance about how HIV is passed between people and what the risks are.
ANDY GREEN, email: What can someone expect if they are diagnosed today? How will their life change?
How does that differ to twenty years ago?
SD: A positive diagnosis is still lifechanging, but it is no longer a death sentence.
It is however a serious, life-long condition that requires constant management.
We are now seeing the first people with confirmed diagnoses of HIV starting to live into old age.
Twenty years ago, they didn’t expect to get old, or to be living with the sometimes very debilitating sideeffects of the medication they take to manage the virus.
Early diagnosis is key to the success of treatment, so getting tested regularly is very important.
PAULA PETERS, email: Do you think more needs to be done to educate young people about the risks of HIV and how they can protect themselves from contracting the illness? How can we approach young people about such a sensitive topic?
SD: Yes. We need to make sure that up-to-date, accurate information is out there in as many media as possible for young people.
Studies have shown though that young people would rather have these conversations with their parents and/or carers and so we need to make sure that parents are well equipped to do this.
We also need to improve the delivery of sex education in schools.
ALAN WICKES, email: There was talk in the national news that bone marrow transplants would free those diagnosed with HIV from drugs, what’s the latest on this?
SD: I am not an expert on bone marrow transplants, but I do know they are very tricky, high-risk procedures.
The case referred to was a one-off and around which I am sure there is ongoing research.
CHARLIE ALEXANDER, email: Does more need to be done to deter people with the illness who knowingly sleep with people unprotected?
SD: The message is the same for everyone: you need to take responsibility for your own sexual health and practise safe sex whether you are positive or not.
It is estimated that 25% of people who are HIV positive are undiagnosed; protect yourself and get tested regularly.
LUKE LAMBERT, email: Why is there such a stigma surrounding HIV/Aids?
SD: Stigma and prejudice of any kind is based around fear and ignorance.
Historically people have been and continue to be fearful because they don’t fully understand how the virus is transmitted.
SHARON COOMBS, phone: How many people in Brighton and Hove suffer from HIV and what is the typical life expectancy for people living with the illness?
SD: There are approximately 2,000 people living with HIV in Brighton and Hove.
It is impossible to give an accurate figure because a proportion of the city’s population will be undiagnosed.
If you get an early diagnosis there is no reason your life expectancy shouldn’t be the same as anyone else.
However, long-term use of medication used to treat HIV often ages people’s organs prematurely by about 15 years – this can lead to more complex health needs, sooner in life.
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