Today, the 1st of December, is World AIDS Day
– a dedicated date in the calendar when activists, media organisations and charities come together to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.
For HIV educators however, every day is World AIDS Day. With approximately 6,000 people diagnosed in the UK each year
, spreading information about the virus is a job that applies all year round. There are some excellent groups taking responsibility for this – ACT UP
and Terrence Higgins Trust
, to name just a few.
If you are diagnosed with HIV in the UK today, the good news is that the virus doesn’t have to be a death sentence. The NHS offers free medication, and providing you begin treatment before your CD4 count falls too low (in simple terms: before your immune system becomes too weak), you can expect to live as long as if you didn’t have HIV.
The bad news is: There is a lack
of safe sex education that would help to prevent the virus being passed on; sexual health services will suffer
from government spending cuts; and people who are diagnosed with HIV still
experience high levels of discrimination and social stigma. There are HIV preventing PrEP drugs that could stop high risk-groups contracting the virus, but they are not reaching those who need them because they are not available
on the NHS.
These problems become increasingly worrying when placed alongside statistics
that suggest 1 in 20 gay men in Britain have HIV, with the figure rising to 1 in 10 in London and 1 in 8 in Brighton. Thankfully, conversations are being had about this in the public domain: This week,VICE
are releasing a documentary
about how chemsex
enhances the risk of HIV transmission.
What we arguably hear about less, are the issues specifically facing women living with HIV in Britain. “There are around 35,000 women
living with HIV in the UK and yet no national strategy to specifically empower these women” says Mary, an HIV activist who currently lives in the UK. “There’s also a serious lack of recognition of the gender-dimensions of HIV at national level,” she adds.