World AIDS Day is an important time for us to both reflect and celebrate. We remember those we’ve lost to HIV and AIDS, but also mark the incredible successes that have been achieved since the beginning of the epidemic. It’s a time to not only show our support for those living with and affected by HIV, but also to highlight the work that is still to be done.
There are few medical conditions that have changed so much in such a short space of time. Effective HIV therapy now means a normal life expectancy is a reality for those living with HIV and brings confidence that they will not pass the virus on to others. Having said that, HIV remains a disease of inequalities; disproportionally affecting some groups over others. It is a disease where those affected still experience unacceptable stigma and discrimination.
In the UK we are finally beginning to see real evidence of a turning point in the HIV epidemic. A couple of weeks ago Public Health England (PHE) released their latest HIV Statistics, which showed three remarkable findings:
These advances are incredible – but it’s not a time to be complacent. What we are seeing is a great start, but we need to keep working. The largest drop in HIV diagnoses has been in gay men, and we now need to ensure that everyone at risk of HIV has access to what we know is working: regular testing, early treatment for those who are positive, and PrEP for those who are negative and at continued risk. Despite our efforts, 12% of people living with HIV remain undiagnosed and we need new testing strategies, such as self-testing and more widespread testing in General Practice, to address this. We also need a concerted effort to eliminate HIV stigma once and for all.
As we reflect and remember the past, our responsibility for the future is clear. If we can scale up what we have achieved so far, we really could achieve the end of HIV in the UK.
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