Recently in the UK on ITV’s This Morning, Rachel Dilley, 48, who naïvely once believed that HIV was a disease that white people couldn’t get, discussed her HIV diagnosis.
Now the first thing which is probably sitting at the forefront of your mind is to ridicule her for her lack of knowledge, extreme naivety and for her ignorance in believing that only people in Africa caught HIV. However, first I ask you to take a step back and think about it for a second; how much do YOU know about HIV for that matter?
Let’s take me for example, now I knew that it was not ‘just something you could catch only in Africa’. Being a gay man, I was more aware of it than say some of our heterosexual comrades would be, but I didn’t know everything there was to know about it.
This however is my point; HIV knows no race, gender, or sexuality and it is stories like this which end in someone catching HIV and having to live with it. But to make good of a bad situation, hopefully people will become more aware and this level of naivety will be diminished.
Some people I spoke to about this story were quick to slate her and call a few things, but I if they were to be given a quick fire test on HIV I bet they wouldn’t know everything. I definitely don’t claim to be no expert, but of course people are sadly quick to judge.
Alas I was guilty of this. At initially hearing the story and reading that Rachel thought HIV was a disease only caught in Africa from a social media website I thought “Really?!” but then went on to read how this newspaper went onto sensationalise the story for its readers, making her look bad. If you take time to watch her interview on This Morning you will in fact see a woman who, like many others out there, lacked knowledge and understanding surrounding HIV.
This again is another reason why we need to educate more and more people – in schools, colleges and universities. Education and knowledge also have the power to break down the barriers that stigma so firmly uphold.
I personally think she is very brave to go on national television and discuss the story surrounding her diagnosis. She was honest and open, she laid her cards right out on the table - something many of us are too fearful to do.
This story also echoes the recent Emmerdale storyline of the character Val Pollard, a heterosexual female in her 50’s, who after a summer fling, was diagnosed HIV+. A friend of mine, also HIV+, who I was talking to whilst writing this article said to me how sad it is that people still have this belief system that makes them immune from catching HIV or are unaware just how it is transmitted. This is why the HIV Emmerdale storyline was so big. It was a great way to raise HIV awareness through the medium of a soap opera which is popular with the British.
In the case of Rachel Dilley, she had gone through the menopause, so therefore didn’t see the need for condoms to be used whilst having intercourse. She admitted to a lack of education surrounding HIV and stressed the importance of education across the spectrum – young and old people.
Rachel now has a great support network and is a lot more educated. It is just unfortunate that it takes such an event for some of us to be educated, to have a better understanding.
I will be following up this piece with an interview with Rachel herself. I have been fortunate enough to be in contact her, who is now actively raising awareness in every form possible.
It is a classic case of “never judge a book by its cover” and I think she has done and continues to do a great job and we in all fairness should take a leaf out of her book.