World AIDS Day 2018 is today 1st December and sees a worldwide campaign to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The campaign is a powerful platform to raise awareness and remind people across the world that much is still to be done to eradicate it, as well providing constant support for those affected by the virus. Becoming involved is easy and can be as simple as sharing a link on social media to donate to the National AIDS Trust, visiting their site to learn more about their work and of course showing solidarity with those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and their allies by wearing a Red Ribbon, the campaign’s iconic symbol.
The Red Ribbon is hugely recognisable and will be forever synonymous with the fight against the virus. I have mine on a jacket mine all year round (it’s a fancy tartan one); I wear it out of pride, as it is a tribute to those who lost their lives to the virus and those who work tirelessly to eradicate it, and as a reminder for other people that HIV/AIDS is still a prevalent issue that doesn’t reappear once a year for a campaign like World AIDS Day.
Since orchestrating the first official public health campaign to raise awareness of the virus in 1988, World AIDS Day has served to remind global citizens and governments of how crucial it is to fund research, provide support to those suffering from HIV/AIDS and prevent it spreading throughout the world. And in 2018, 34 years after its clinical discovery, educating ourselves about HIV/AIDS has never been so crucial.
Our generation has not been exposed to the trauma AIDS inflicted on previous generations, especially from the mid-80s to the early 90s. With effective treatment of HIV and good prognoses for a long, fulfilling life, it is easy to become complacent with the threat of contracting the virus: according to the National Aids Trust, the number of people living with HIV has doubled in the past 10 years, over half of all people living with HIV are aged between 30 and 49 and an estimated 103,700 people now living with HIV in the UK.
Complacency is detrimental to the fight against AIDS, and when more than 500 people died from HIV-related illnesses in 2013, clearly the fight against the virus is far from over.
Truvada/PrEP continues to be controversial topic in the UK. In a number of other countries like the US, Truvada has already been rolled out as a way of keeping gay men safe from infection with HIV. If taken every day, it prevents infection, alongside other preventative measures like using condoms to also protect men from other sexually transmitted diseases. The controversy in the UK is not so much over whether it works, but whether it should be government funded, as well as the theory that supporting the drug would lead to an increase in promiscuity. Surely, then, we should be working towards educating more people about safe sex practice, with drugs like Truvada being available on the NHS for those particularly vulnerable to the virus. When statistics of HIV/AIDS are as frightening as they are in the UK, surely we need as much support we can get.
Education is crucial and HIV/AIDS prevention is easy to achieve. HIV is avoidable with safe-sex practices such as using a condom or dental dam as well as water-based lubricant (not oil-based). Universities and colleges often supply free condoms and lube, as well as gay-friendly clubs and bars. It is recommended that gay and bisexual men are tested at least once a year; the Steve Retson Project offers rapid HIV testing with results in 60 seconds, PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis for sexual exposure to HIV) and vaccinations that cover hepatitis and HPV. Whether you have multiple sexual partners or are in a monogamous relationship, the routine of regular check ups gives you
control over your sexual health. And the staff are lovely!
Pull together all your resources, family and friends and raise money and awareness for a great cause. World AIDS Day may only last one day of the month, but thinking about the way HIV/AIDS still affects our day to day lives is something we must do throughout the year. The momentum of showing solidarity with those with the virus and working to find an end to it must be sustained.
Donate generously to the National AIDS Trust and allow them to continue their excellent work to finally see the end of HIV/AIDS; and if you haven’t done so recently, be sure to develop the habit of having routine HIV tests and take part in making HIV/AIDS a thing of the past.