World AIDS Day, on December 1st is an opportunity for us to remember and to raise awareness. The theme for this year is ‘Let’s end it,’ and communities are working together with the aim of ending isolation, stigma and HIV transmission itself.
2017 seems a long way from the dark days of the 80s and early to mid 90s, when treatments didn’t exist and HIV, in many cases, was a death sentence. We now have effective treatments, which have been hugely successful. People are now able to live healthy lives with a near normal life expectancy. Not only that, but people on effective treatment CANNOT pass on HIV. This means if we can encourage people to get tested and tackle late diagnosis, we have a real chance of stopping the HIV epidemic in its tracks. We saw a drop in new diagnoses of HIV in 2016, now the challenge is to keep up the momentum and try and reach those people who are currently being diagnosed late.
Although there has been great progress, we still find that some people with HIV face isolation and stigma. Myths still persist – that you can get HIV from a toilet seat or from kissing, that women with HIV will automatically give it to their babies or that it only affects gay men.
Only a couple of weeks ago Avon and Somerset Police announced officers would wear spit hoods to prevent transmission of HIV. “Each day we face being spat at, putting us at risk of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis” they said. The reality is that spitting has not resulted in a single case of HIV. While they have since apologised and acknowledged their mistake, statements like these only fuel stigma, and demonise people living with HIV.
So in 2017, there is still a lot to be done. Tackling stigma and late diagnosis, educating new generations (and older ones who still don’t know the facts) and encouraging safer sex. You can do your bit on World AIDS Day by wearing a red ribbon, starting conversations about HIV or donating to organisations like The Sussex Beacon which support people living with HIV and work to reduce new diagnoses.
I can’t write a piece on World AIDS Day without mentioning those who have died with AIDS both in this country and across the World. Partners, sons, mothers, friends – all taken too soon. Each individual leaving behind devastation and heartbreak. We’ll always remember them, particularly on World AIDS Day, and it will spur us on to keep working tirelessly to eradicate HIV.
HIV – #LETSENDIT
Simon Dowe, Chief Executive, The Sussex Beacon