HIV positive in Finland fear stigma

A positive diagnosis is still highly taboo in Finland. Fearful of negative reactions, many people carrying the virus keep it a secret.

HIV-positiivinen voi elää nykyään lääkehoidon turvin lähes yhtä kauan kuin tautia kantamatonkin. Image: Sari Gustafsson / Lehtikuva

Today some 2,000 people in Finland have been diagnosed with the virus. According to the HIV support centre in Helsinki, those testing positive fear discrimination.

“Some people have kept it a secret for years with no one knowing but their health practitioners,” says Irma Pahlman, who heads the organisation.

Some still think you can contract HIV from a toilet seat or kissing.

Irma Pahlman

Ignorance about the condition still exists Finland—even among health care professionals. Infectious disease expert Heikki Kauma of Oulu University Hospital says staff at small clinics still hold antiquated views on HIV/AIDS.

“When an HIV patient shows up—be it for any reason—health care workers may cover up in protective gowns and masks, which are utterly unnecessary," Kauma explains.

80s AIDS scare runs deep

Irma Pahlman and Heikki Kauma say many people still falsely believe that HIV is only transmitted among homosexuals—a notion rooted in the first major outbreaks of the epidemic in the 1980s.

Kauma emphasises that Oulu University Hospital sees a diverse group of HIV patients—male and female—ranging in age from 20 to 70.

But it still comes as a surprise to many that the virus is spread through unprotected sexual contact.

“Some still think you can contract HIV from a toilet seat or kissing,” says Pahlman.

Testing positive for HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be. Thanks to increasingly effective drug therapies, carriers can live nearly as long as those who are HIV negative, Kauma explains.

World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1 to show support for people living with HIV. Some 34 million people worldwide are living with HIV infection, according to the World Health Organization.