Living With HIV: No Treatment for Discrimination

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Being HIV positive shouldn&39;t mean living in a bubble. (Photo: Jamil Bittar/Reuters)

DAY TWO of the Journalist to Journalist Global Media Training Program on HIV/AIDS.

With proper treatment, a person infected with HIV today can live much as he or she did prior to diagnosis.

No medicine, however, can erase the social stigma that surrounds the virus in many communities.

Bias even exists in Austria, host to the 2010 International AIDS Conference and considered a model by many for its progressive medical infrastructure.

Under Austria's universal public health care, treatment is provided free to everyone living with the virus.

To cut down on infection by needle sharing, the national drug policy is centered on treatment rather than prosecution. Substitution treatment, combined with a needle and syringe exchange program, have led to a significant drop in transmission, according to Dr. Brigitte Schmied, Head of the HIV Department at the Otto Wagner Hospital in Vienna.

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Especially impressive is the drop in mother-to-child transmission since treatment for pregnant women began in 1997.

And yet...

Social attitudes have lagged behind the medical advances, patients at the Otto Wagner Hospital tell TakePart, speaking anonymously.

“The main problem is that you have to hide it from everyone besides your family and close friends,” one woman says.

The woman explained that she was diagnosed with HIV in 2002. With the supervision of the hospital’s HIV team, the woman has since had a baby with her husband. Like more than 99 percent of pregnant women with HIV in Austria today, her baby was born without the virus.

“It’s a really good hospital. They have a lot of information, and they’re very supportive,” she says.

While quality treatment is a given for most HIV-positive people in Austria, living with the virus can be an emotional strain, confirms Wilfried Peinhaupt, the hospital’s psychologist.

He points to the stress of discrimination and fear of being outed as psychological challenges his patients face, aside from potential bad news with each medical checkup.

“It’s very hard for people to live with the virus,” he explains. “Some patients are depressed over time.”

A man who was diagnosed in 1996 and has been receiving treatment at the Otto Wagner Hospital ever since, said that he hopes the conference might help change widespread misconceptions about the virus.

“It’s always good to discuss it, and maybe the public will change their views," he said. "Maybe.”


Yasmine Ryan is attending the Journalist to Journalist Global Media Training Program on HIV/AIDS, run by the National Press Foundation in Vienna ahead of the 2010 International AIDS Conference. She will be blogging daily from Vienna until July 23.

Want to learn more about reporting on HIV/AIDS? Click here to see the training resources from the program, including the speakers’ presentations.


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