One Month to World AIDS Day

Wow, it’s November already and just a month to World AIDS Day on 1 December.  This is one of the most important days of the year for us at Positive Life – and anyone affected by an HIV diagnosis.

On World AIDS Day, people around the world unite to support people living with HIV and remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.  It’s also about raising awareness – and this is why it’s so important for us at Positive Life.

If you’re old enough to remember the 80’s, it’s now 36 years since those first “tombstone” TV ads aired (if you’re too young, look them up, it might explain a few things). The ads were so hard-hitting; they had to be: many, many lives were being lost to AIDS.  HIV was practically unheard of before then, and treatment was just being figured out.  Much like the COVID pandemic, it was a very real life-threatening crisis.

However, like permed hair, blue eyeshadow and Rick Astley, we’ve all come a long way since then.  Like, a really long way.  Enormous strides in research into HIV now mean that, with effective treatment, HIV is no longer a death sentence.  

Not only do people diagnosed with HIV live well, the treatment is now so good that the amount of HIV virus in the body (the viral load) can be brought down so low that it becomes undetectable

We can now confidently say that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U) and by this, we mean that someone living with HIV, on effective treatment, can have sex and can give birth to children without fear of onward transmission

The problem with having such a memorable TV ad, is that the information and awareness most people over the age of 40 have nowadays is based exclusively on this. There hasn’t been anything as high profile since then to bring public understanding up to date – it’s stuck in the 80’s. 

We really need people to understand this U=U message because it’s vitally important to everyone living with HIV and it’s central to the drive to remove the stigma they experience.  We know from our service users that the mental health impact of living with stigma is one of the most significant challenges of living with a diagnosis.

If more people understand that HIV is not contracted through social contact, sharing a drink, shaking hands, or hugging, and learn the importance of looking after your sexual health, imagine the difference that would make. 

So as we look ahead to World AIDS Day on 1 December, let’s keep working on updating public awareness in line with the amazing treatments available in 2023.  Let’s break the stigma and improve the lives of those living with HIV.