There are 158 HIV positive men and women and 23 persons diagnosed with AIDS living in Iceland right now. Thirty-seven people in Iceland have died of the virus. HIV and AIDS have inflicted one person for every 1,466 on this small island and touched exponentially more through family ties, friendships and acquaintances. Still, it’s difficult to imagine receiving such a diagnosis or learning that your loved one has. The sensationalised face of HIV and AIDS that has been imprinted on the public’s common mind—a frail and fragile homosexual male, confined to a strict regimen of medications, sentenced to death—is terrifying when imagined on a sister, brother, parent, friend, anybody.
This stereotypical image is one that the media seeks out, for impact, when covering the disease. It’s also an exaggerated image that HIV Ísland is trying to correct. “On AIDS day 2008, it was our 20th anniversary so our project manager and I offered interviews to local media,” explained Gunnlaugur I. Grétarsson, President of HIV Ísland. “But they didn’t want interviews with us. They wanted somebody who looks like he has AIDS. They want somebody gay looking and sick looking because that’s the image of the disease. They don’t want healthy looking straight guys to be on TV, talking about AIDS. It doesn’t sell.”
“All media are looking for dramatic stories. So they try to find a small baby girl, the only positive child in Iceland, and try to put her in the tabloids. We want them to tell our story as a positive one. We want to remind people that there is life with HIV.”
This article was published in Reykjavik Grapevine 23.9.2009. Words by Catharine Fulton.