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World Aids Day has been raising awareness of Aids and HIV issues for 29 years.

Nicky-Siddall Collier, ISS UK Employment Law specialist explores why it is still as relevant as ever.
1st December marked World AIDS Day, which has been an opportunity for people to unite and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS for 29 years.

On this day, people all over the world wear a red ribbon with pride, without fear, shame or stigma and ISS UK is helping this to happen by making red ribbons available for sale in many of our offices.

All money is donated to the Terence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity, whose theme this year is See Red; referencing the famous red ribbon and calling for people to work together to fight against and end the HIV epidemic and stigma. 

One of our colleagues bravely agreed to share their story to explain why World AIDS Day and wearing a red ribbon is so important to them.

Individual self-told story – Anonymous

For as long as I can remember my dad has always been sick. 

When I was young, I knew that he was allergic to penicillin and he would have a problem with his lungs one day, a fall the next, a terrible chest infection the following fortnight and so on. My mum has always been good at giving my brother and I reasons for his various illnesses but never any real detail and it was a total family taboo to ask too many questions, so we didn’t.  

I recently went back to live with my parents to support my mum because Dad has been more ill in the past year with increased vomiting and fevers and Mum was finding it incredibly difficult to juggle his care and medical appointments with her work. 

Although Dad smokes and drinks, he eats nutritious food, is under 60 and isn’t the world’s most unhealthy person so it didn’t make sense to me for someone of his age to be constantly so ill and in and out of hospital, so about six months ago, I did a Google search of his medication and discovered that he has HIV. 

I’ll never forget the moment I found out, I was literally frozen to the spot and my brain was saying “Wait. What? We live with someone who has AIDS?! My dad, the guy who studied medicine, the Doctor?”

When my brother and I confronted him, Dad just shrugged, said “I’m surprised your mum didn’t tell you” and then stayed in bed for three days. It turns out that Dad contracted HIV from having unprotected sex around 15 years ago so the topic is doubly off limits with my mum and since that day we haven’t talked about it much; we know what’s wrong, support him and take care of him, but we don’t say the actual word or discuss the condition. 

It’s been a really tough few months because, on top of the anguish of seeing my fragile, skinny father unable to open a car door because the weight of it is too much for him, incapable some days of getting out of bed, getting drunk to cope with the pain and emotional turmoil and probably having less than a year to live, I have been forced to confront the shock that the stigma of HIV and AIDS remains deeply engrained; not just in other people but also and especially in myself. 

In the early days of knowing, I scolded my brother for refusing to let our Dad get out of the car in case people might see him and realise what his condition was and frowned at Mum when she made Dad hide away when she had visitors and yet I wouldn’t eat a meal that my Dad had cooked on one of his good days; I made sure that I washed his plate again after he had washed it, stopped storing my toothbrush in the bathroom and began massively overusing bleach, Dettol and extra rubber gloves when cleaning. All these years I thought that HIV held the same space in my mind as cancer and yet I can’t stop my brain from having these thoughts and guarding against infection from my own dad. 

I have had to tell my managers because I need their understanding about taking time off for Dad’s appointments and I hated lying to them, but I wrote it in an e mail because I couldn’t face telling them face to face. They have been really supportive, but I can tell that they also found it difficult to talk to me about it too. 

I know that my parents were trying to protect me and my brother by not telling us; Dad was embarrassed and given how we’re dealing with it right now, it would have been really hard when we were teenagers, but I’m also really angry because we could have spent more time with Dad when he had more energy. He’s not in a good place right now and we took the good moments that we had together for granted. 

One good thing to happen is that the relationship between me and my dad has got stronger in these last months, I’ve discovered that I haven’t really known him for all these years when I resented him for getting drunk and making Mum sad without knowing why. I have found out that we are actually really alike; we swap novels, watch scary documentaries, discuss philosophy and talk surprisingly comfortably about him passing away and his funeral preferences which I will fight for when the time comes. We now have a bond that never existed before and every day has become extra special, but my heart often gets too heavy to bear. 

Dad has up to seven medical appointments a month and we have to be ‘on him’ to make sure he takes his hated 15-20 tablets a day. This medication controls his physical condition to an extent but on the days he’s well enough and we all go to work, he’ll still stay in bed all day because he hasn’t dealt with the emotional side of things; he’s lonely, dealing with the condition and has no-one he can talk to. I have noticed that there is a tendency to treat the person differently but really they haven’t changed, they are still the same person deep down but they have moments of being down or really poorly and you just have to find a way to be there for them.

"I will be wearing a red ribbon today, because I am not as open minded as I thought I was and I’m challenging myself and the stigma about Dad’s condition every single day. 

I wanted to tell my story to try and process my feelings, but also to help open up conversations about something that doesn’t often get discussed."

Further information
There are approximately 36.7 million people who have the virus globally; 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK. There were 5,164 new diagnoses in the UK in 2016 and more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

What our colleagues’ story demonstrates is that it is not just the people living with the condition who are affected by it. Their family, friends and work colleagues are also impacted by caring for their loved one or supporting someone who is but also the isolation that comes with the negative stigma and discrimination associated with it. 

It’s an expensive time of year, but if you can spare a pound or so this World AIDS Day, please buy and wear a red ribbon to join the fight to end the negative impact of HIV. 

The more we See Red, the sooner we will beat HIV.

We will use the hashtags #SeeRed and #ISSGreatPeople on social media. 

Nicky Siddall-Collier is an Employment Law specialist at ISS Facility Services UK with a particular interest in Diversity and Inclusion issues.

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About why World Aids Day is still as relevant...and ever. ...

Nicky Siddall-Collier, ISS UK Employment Law Specialist

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Every month, Nicky Siddall-Collier shares insights on Diversity and Inclusion issues gained during her 13 years as an Employment Law specialist with ISS UK. 
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