In 2017, at the 20th anniversary of Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan, or PRAA, our community was discussing how rare it was for a HIV-related organization to survive in Taiwan for 20 years. We could guarantee that 99% of people in Taiwan have never heard of us. We were throwing out ideas on how to increase awareness of the organization, when I decided to, jokingly, speak about organizing an open exhibition; this joke eventually entrusted me with the exhibition planning duties.
Less than a year later, at PRAA, we began giving one-on-one tours. People living with HIV/AIDS shared their personal experiences, and these tours facilitated the discussion on basic disease awareness, common misconceptions of HIV and PLWHA, and cases of human rights violations of PLWHA.
I vividly recall the feedback given by a Japanese lady who attended the tour: “Thank you for having an exhibition like this. I am a public health nurse in Japan, and I was so scared of this disease before I started doing my job years ago, but knowledge really kills fear. People need to have a better understanding about this disease. I hope to see more exhibitions like this in different places throughout the world.”
Her feedback made my day, and in that moment, all of the efforts seemed to have paid off. In retrospect, I had just realized the gravity of the issue she conveyed. The public’s perception of HIV can deeply damage our cause. Anti-LGBT individuals use HIV as a political tool to oppose same-sex marriage. As the negative sentiment towards HIV propagates, the divide between PLWHA and the public becomes greater. We advocates, need to recognize this divide and step in to do our part. We need to reach out to correct the misconceptions and open more avenues to communicate and educate; perhaps only then, we can stop the discrimination and stigma that taints our efforts.
Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan, or PRAA, established in 1997, is the first nonprofit, self-help organization set up by and for PLWHA, along with family, friends, and HIV advocates in Taiwan.
PRAA assists PLWHA and HIV-affected families by advocating for their basic human rights such as to accommodation, employment, education, and equal access to healthcare. The association also promotes HIV prevention and improvements in access to treatment. PRAA envisions a good quality of life for PLWHA and a society without prejudice and discrimination.