Friday 1 December is #WorldAIDSDay – a global campaign by the National AIDS Trust, which has been recognised on 1st December every year since 1988. Its aim is to support those living with HIV, remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illness, secure the rights of people living with the condition and continue the fight to end the stigma surrounding HIV.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus which attacks the immune system – the body’s defence against diseases. HIV stays in the body for life, but treatment can keep the virus under control and the immune system healthy. Without medication people with HIV can develop AIDS.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the most advanced stage of an HIV infection, when the immune system can no longer fight infections. Someone with AIDS has both HIV and at least one of a specific list of ‘AIDS-defining’ diseases, which include tuberculosis, pneumonia and some types of cancer. AIDS is life-threatening, but if HIV is caught early and is treated, it will not lead to AIDS. If HIV is caught late, it can lead to more complications and could ultimately lead to AIDS. That is why it is so important to get tested early if you have been at risk of HIV, as it will mean that you can access treatment that will prevent you from ever getting AIDS.
According to the National AIDS Trust, in 2019 there were 105,200 people living with HIV in the UK. Of these, 94% were diagnosed and aware of their condition. This means that around 1 in 16 people living with HIV in the UK do not know that they have the virus.
Recent research also found 63 per cent of people surveyed did not remember seeing or hearing about HIV in the previous six months – and only a third said they have sympathy for people living with HIV, regardless of how they acquired it. The survey also found that one in five people think you can acquire HIV through kissing and only 16 per cent of those questioned knew that if someone is on effective treatment, they can’t pass HIV on and can expect to live a long and healthy life.
Hope House Sexual Health Service is getting behind this year’s campaign and using this as an opportunity to promote the importance of prevention and early detection, to help prevent new cases of HIV and spread of the virus.
Dr Ayo-ola OkuNwobi-Smith, Consultant Genitourinary Medicine and HIV at Hope House, said: “World AIDS Day is a time to remember those who have lost their lives to the disease, promote awareness around HIV and stand with those living with the condition.
“I think it is also an opportunity to celebrate how far we have come over the last 30 years in raising awareness and understanding of the condition, and reducing stigma around HIV – but we can do even better. We aim to achieve zero tolerance to stigma against people living with HIV.
“Here at Hope House we offer HIV testing throughout the year as part of our standard sexual infection screening. If you were to test positive for HIV, we would not disclose this to anybody – not your employer, not your GP. This is your information. However, should you receive a positive result, you will be able to access free treatment and support.”
“The HIV treatments currently available can’t get rid of HIV completely, but work by reducing the amount of HIV in the body, so the immune system can improve. Once the HIV is undetectable in the blood it is untransmissible. This is known as U=U – i.e., ‘Undetectable = Untransmissible’.
“HIV is now classified as a chronic illness, not a fatal one. The recent and continuing improvements in anti-retroviral treatment (HIV medication) therapies mean that people living with HIV can experience a near-to-normal life expectancy, undetectable levels of virus, and enjoy a full life.”
On the subject of the stigma surrounding HIV, she continued: “We are all responsible for destigmatising HIV in our communities, places of work, schools, universities, places of worship – in fact, anywhere we meet other people. The Government has pledged to achieve zero stigma against people living with HIV by the year 2030.
“Let’s all do our part in our communities, join hands and stamp out HIV stigma before 2030. Happy World AIDS Day!”
To find out more about the HIV Service, visit the Hope House website.
Collect your red ribbon and light a candle to remember those lost and to stand against the stigma surrounding HIV
The HIV Service works closely with The Eddystone Trust, who can also offer support and advice to people living with HIV.
On Friday 1 December The Eddystone Trust will be at The Church of St Mary de Crypt in Southgate Street, Gloucester (GL1 1TP).
Collect your red ribbon and light a candle to remember those lost and to stand against the stigma and discrimination those living with HIV still experience today.
The Trust will also be displaying memorial quilts made by loved ones lost in the 1980s and ’90s, and HIV Prevention Worker Naomi will be available from 1-3pm to answer any questions about HIV and provide free home tests if required.
Home testing kits
People can also test at home using HIV postal and self-test kits. To find out more, and for further information, visit the Hope House website>
For further facts about HIV visit the National AIDS Trust website.
Patient stories: Living with HIV
In these short films, patients who have been accessing the treatment and support available from our HIV Service at Hope House, talk about their experiences of living with the condition, and how early detection and treatment has helped them to live full, happy and productive lives.