Last month it was revealed that new HIV diagnoses in Scotland have declined, with a 15% decline between 2017 and 2018. This is welcome news and shows we are making progress towards ending new HIV transmissions.
That same progress must also be made in supporting the 5,375 people living with HIV in Scotland to live well. Peer support is one way we can do this.
Two years ago we launched Peer Support Scotland with clear aims: to enable people to live well with their blood-borne virus. The project supports people living with both HIV and hepatitis C, and it is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.
Peer Support Scotland provides a unique mix of support services and has engaged with 449 clients and volunteers across all of Scotland. Working with our dedicated team of living well specialists, beneficiaries are invited to choose from a diverse array of workshops and activities, all designed to enhance people’s skills and make them more resilient in the face of life’s challenges.
We place a strong focus on skills development, with the option for beneficiaries to work towards a Peer Support Scotland Development Award. This is done through creating a personal portfolio of participation in lively and empowering sessions on a variety of themes. This year’s activities included confidence building, mindfulness, digital skills and interview techniques.
In the last two years, 48 participants have achieved the Development Award.
At the heart of the project is working in partnership with the network of peer supporters to ensure that what we are offering meets the needs of the diverse range of people we want to engage. It’s vital that we continue to adapt through developing new ideas as new people come on board.
Empowering our peer mentors means they gain the confidence and skills to facilitate group work and provide one-to-one assistance to beneficiaries with advice around welfare rights, tackling discrimination and a host of other issues.
What has been most humbling about working on this project is the real difference it’s making to the lives of the hundreds of people who have participated. The project has allowed people living with HIV and hepatitis C – either for a number of years or just recently diagnosed – to support and learn from one another.
We know that general support services often don’t understand or have up-to-date knowledge about the realities of living with HIV or hepatitis C in 2019. This can sometimes mean that people face stigma at a time when they need understanding and support. That’s precisely why using people’s lived experience to provide a confidential and stigma-free services for people, right across Scotland, has proved to be invaluable to so many.
In the light of recent medical advances, as we look towards ending new HIV transmissions in Scotland and encourage more people test for hepatitis C, it’s vital we don’t take our eye off the ball in supporting those living with HIV and or hepatitis C.
Through empowering people to live well and flourish we can not only changes lives, we can look to end stigmatising attitudes.
Julie Ringsell is a Living Well Specialist for Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland.
- In June Peer Support Scotland will be hosting an event in central Glasgow to mark the two year anniversary of the project. To find out more details, contact [email protected]