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World Aids Day - Rock the Ribbon

On World AIDS Day 2020, PSA LGBT+ Lead, Paul Court, talks about work to make the Police Service a supportive and kinder place for colleagues and for the public who live with HIV:

With 24 days to go, this morning I opened the first window of my advent calendar that my mum still buys me! With Christmas around the corner and our battle with a global pandemic continuing, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the most destructive global epidemic in history. AIDS… Today is World AIDS day. A day to show support to those living with HIV and commemorate the 35 million people who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. I am passionate about making the Police Service a supportive and kinder place for our colleagues and the public who live with HIV and I am fortunate that my role within the Police Superintendents’ Association gives me a voice to do this. However, we can all make a difference. Simply reading this blog will make a difference. I have littered this blog with links from various reputable sources so if you want to know more about a comment I have made, click on the bold text.

Take a few seconds to consider how confident you would feel about telling your colleagues you are living with HIV. If you would not feel confident, why not? I am guessing it may likely be because of the stigma attached to the virus. That stigma is hugely damaging to those living with HIV. So often that stigma exists because of a lack of knowledge. The awful images used decades ago remain in people’s minds. That is why it is so important that I speak to you about the facts: to reassure you and so you can educate others. As it happens, I think the Police Service are leading the way in a lot of the work we are doing but there are other public sectors that have some way to go. To ensure we continue to lead the way, let me tell you four littleknown facts: 

You cannot get HIV from spitting or biting

Only last month I heard several comments about “catching AIDS” following an assault and needing to go to hospital for treatment. Not only is this an unnecessary worry for officers but it further isolates our friends and colleagues living with HIV when they see such fear. HIV organisations across the UK have stated that: HIV cannot be transmitted through spiting or biting, even if the saliva contains blood. This message has been backed by scientific evidence and numerous medical journals. You are not going to get HIV from being assaulted in the course of your duties. For this reason (and many others), we should not be recording HIV as a warning signal because as you now know, there really is no danger. 

97% of those who are diagnosed with HIV are on treatment

Those abhorrent individuals who use HIV as a threat most likely don’t have it as if they did, they wouldn’t want to promote the terrible stigma. If they did have HIV, nine times out of ten they are on treatment and so cannot pass it on. Even if they weren’t on treatment, we now know they can’t pass it on through assault. So when someone threatens you with HIV, regardless of their true status, not only do you not need to worry about it, you can now helpfully educate them with the facts. For this reason (and many others), we should not be recording HIV as a warning signal because as you now know, there really is no danger. 

 You are more than twice as likely to be fatally killed in a car accident than acquire HIV from a needlestick injury 

If you are unfortunate to receive a needle-stick injury during the course of your duties, the chances of acquiring HIV are very small (around 1 in 500 if the needle-stick has HIV containing blood but far less in reality because HIV prevalence amongst people who inject drugs is so low in the UK). So whilst we should be alive to the risk of any infections that could be caused through needles, there are no known cases of police officers acquiring HIV through needle stick. 

 A third of those living with HIV in the UK are women and 38% of transmissions are due to heterosexual contact 

Why am I, as the LGBT rep writing about HIV? It is a fair question. The LGBT community has and continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV. That said, this blog could have been written by Simon, our disability lead as HIV is covered within the Equality Act. Likewise, it could have been written by Emma, our female representative as a third of transmissions affect women. It could have been written by Bobbi, our BAME rep, as HIV disproportionately affects some groups within the black community. It could have been written by any of us!

Before I sign off, I want to mention the human side to HIV. During HIV training that I attended earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to listen to many speakers, one of whom was a middle-aged mother – she very much resembled my own mum. Before the session, I was intrigued to hear what I thought would be a story from her about a family member or friend who had lived with HIV. Only, when she spoke, it wasn’t a family member or friend she spoke about – it was herself. I was so annoyed with myself. There I was trying to challenge the stereotype and stigma that exists and yet I was blindly walking into the trap. How could I not think that a woman, no different to my mum, would be living with HIV? The next thing I thought – should I tell anybody about the assumption I had just made? Do I confess to contributing to the stigma that I am trying to prevent?

Well, I just have confessed to you all and I hope in doing so, it gives you the confidence to challenge your own perceptions of HIV. Finally, I recognise that there will be people reading this blog will be living with HIV. Some people reading this will have lost loved ones to AIDS. They are our family, our friends, our colleagues and our public. We can support them in stopping the stigma by being informed, challenging our own stereotypes but most importantly showing kindness and compassion. If we do, I am certain the Police Service will continue to be a leader in supporting those living with HIV.


P.S. I am grateful to friends at the National AIDS Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust for fact checking the content of my blog. If you want to know more about #rocktheribbon, click here.