There is effective treatment

Everyone living with HIV in Sweden is entitled to free treatment. The medications reduce the HIV load in the body to the point that it cannot even be measured.

With effective treatment, HIV is no longer life threatening and is not passed on. This is something of a medical revolution.

HIV is not the same thing as AIDS

HIV is a virus that can be treated. The name HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus.

If HIV is not discovered and treated, it breaks down the immune system. AIDS is a collective name for the illnesses you can develop. HIV treatment counteracts this, which means that you never develop AIDS. Living with HIV means lifelong treatment but you might never feel ill at all.

HIV is not transmitted randomly

Effective treatment prevents HIV from being passed on to others. HIV is transmitted primarily when people don’t know that they have it. But untreated HIV is not transmitted randomly either. There are three specific ways: 1) Unprotected sex, 2) Blood and 3) Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. That’s all.

It is simply about certain bodily fluids entering someone else. HIV cannot be transmitted through air, water, surfaces or social contact. Skin protects. A person bleeding is not a danger in itself. Moreover, the virus cannot survive outside the body.

An HIV test is the only way to know

Anyone can get HIV. It is not something that only affects certain people or groups. HIV does not show on the outside and does not present clear symptoms for the most part. The only way to know is to get tested.

Everyone has the right to be tested for HIV. You can get tested at your clinic, for example. Other places include youth clinics, STD clinics and infection clinics. It is free and you can remain anonymous. You do not need to say why you want to get tested.

You can protect yourself

HIV should not be taken lightly. Untreated HIV is life threatening. That risk is eliminated with treatment but it is still a chronic infection which requires lifelong treatment. There are ways to protect yourself.

Using condoms is one way, not sharing needles and other tools when injecting drugs is another. It is good to get tested if you do not know your HIV status. In Sweden, everyone who knows that they have HIV has access to treatment. Treatment means that you can have sex and even give birth without transmitting HIV. Effective treatment means that it is safer to sleep with someone who is receiving treatment than with someone who doesn’t know their HIV status. There are ways to protect yourself from HIV, but avoiding people who know that they have it is definitely not one of them.

We need to talk about HIV

22 percent of people living with HIV say that they have been treated badly because they have HIV. Apart from those who are directly mistreated, there are many others who are affected. One strategy used to avoid discrimination and exclusion is to conceal one’s HIV status in one way or another. The silence is palpable.

The possibility of telling people that you are living with HIV is not a given for everyone. Not even one in three is as open as they would like. And there is a direct correlation between not being as open as you would like and a lower quality of life. Silence and preconceived ideas make everyday life harder than it needs to be. The more we all talk about HIV, the easier it will be for new knowledge to take hold and create opportunities for change.