The two-minute video below is in Finnish, but the message comes through loud and clear. Janne, a Finnish man with HIV, waits in a city square. He stands with his eyes closed next to a sign that reads:
"I am HIV-positive
People hesitate to approach Janne at first -- partly because the act of touching a stranger on the street is in itself taboo. But then gradually one or two people come up to place a hand on his shoulder. Eventually, many strangers, including several little kids, come up to give Janne a hug. "Kiitos," he says, thanking them in Finnish.
It's a simple idea, but this expression of kindness and compassion for a stranger brings tears to Janne's eyes.
Janne made this video to demonstrate both what it is like to live with HIV-related stigma and raise awareness of HIV. Part of a collaboration with Yle Kioski, a Finnish broadcasting company which released the video this week to mark with Pride Week in Helsinki.
Though public understanding of HIV in the U.S. and in many parts of the world is much better than it used to be, people living with HIV continue combat social stigma. A 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of HIV/AIDS at 30 found that 49 percent of Americans would be "very" comfortable working with someone with HIV and AIDS, though that was up from 32 percent in 1997. Meanwhile, 24 percent of people would be "very" comfortable with a HIV-positive person prepare their food.
To state what many people will feel is obvious, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says there is absolutely no danger in touching or hugging a person with HIV. By far the most common way for people in the U.S. to contract HIV is by having sex or sharing drug needles with someone who is HIV positive.
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