What do you do when an illness you have defines you? When the social stigma attached to the illness you carry leads to discrimination, prejudice and a feeling of hopelessness. For millions of people around the world, this existence is a reality as they battle the human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly recognized as HIV. The negative social stigma that has shadowed sufferers since the 80s, is sadly still looming. However thanks to individuals such as Andrew Chidgey – Chief Executive of AIDS Concern, Hong Kong – who’s also a member of APCOM’s Board member, the barriers for sufferers are slowly but surely being broken down. With heightened awareness and activism prevailing in our youth, organizations such as AIDS Concern and APCOM are at the forefront of correcting these transgression and giving people an opportunity to take back their lives.
Chidgey has long been interested in public health, starting his career focused on Alzheimer’s disease. He cites similarities between the crisis of Alzheimer and HIV/AIDS being the misunderstanding by people who are not willing to discuss the facts. This lack of dialogue between people is what he is battling – to create a safer environment for the large numbers of people who are suffering in silence. For organizations such as Chidgey’s AIDS concern, this is no small trial, where many Asian nations house very conservative mindsets.
There is fear that talking openly about sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases will taint your image and even associate you with being promiscuous. The good news is the increased empathy and understanding from younger generations who are wanting to be politically activated.
When we talk about HIV in today’s society, Andrew Chidgey describes the issue much like an inefficient market place. The sufferers are scared to ask for help, primed by an arduous history of being neglected and judged by societal labels. On the other side, there is a lack of conversation surrounding the matter due to the ideas clouding the issue. There is fear that talking openly about sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases will taint your image and even associate you with being promiscuous. The good news is the increased empathy and understanding from younger generations who are “wanting to be politically activated” as Chidgey says. “They care passionately about questions like social justice and how people are treated”. This newfound willingness to discuss the topic and address the mistreatment of sufferers is giving power to back to the sufferers “to be more confident, more healthy, and happier in their lives”.
The negative ripples caused by this disease can impact networks of people, and AIDS organizations see this first hand. We would be naive to think only the people living with HIV is affected. Chidgey has seen how much “damage it can do if [the disease is] not handled well”. Relationships can get strained with family and friends. Part of the “handling” he refers to is providing support and a safe space to get guidance to navigate the disease. Having this middleman to help individuals communicate and garner understanding from their loved ones is invaluable to maintaining the lives of people living with HIV. Through the work of AIDS Concern, Chidgey aims “to make people’s lives more comfortable and make sure that [that] damage doesn’t happen.”
With the outpouring of youth activists and the desire to be global citizens, we are giving people affected by the epidemic an opportunity to take their lives back, according to Chidgey. “To me, that’s what I find really inspiring about this work.”