Growing up in a relatively secluded area in the North of Scotland, the only real times I heard the words “HIV” or “AIDS” was when they were mentioned in the back of a Modern Studies classroom – with a brief statistic on how much of a problem it was for Africa. Moving to Glasgow for university a few years later opened me up to a bit more discussion, but this time it was strictly LGBT related, and HIV to me was a “gay man’s problem”. I was very ignorant towards this topic – with no knowledge on what the difference between HIV and AIDS even was, and a lack of understanding to the stigma I was potentially adding too.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, whilst working on the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme with Restless Development that I realised I still had a huge gap in my sex education knowledge.
I learnt not only how much of a problem HIV was in the community of my placement in Uganda, but also how many people were actually living with HIV back here in the UK.
People living with HIV in the UK are in a much better position, with access to free drugs and a variety of services and peer groups offering support. In fact, 97% of people living in the UK who are HIV positive now have an undetectable viral load – meaning that they cannot actually ‘pass on’ HIV to another individual. And for the first time ever, we are beginning to see statistics of people who are diagnosed with HIV at an early stage, having the same life expectancy as the general population. This is fantastic progress!
So, what is the issue?
Stigma around HIV still exists. From my experience, people are still as ignorant as I use to be because there is a lack on education around the issue. Most people still don’t think it affects them, “that’s not my problem, it isn’t relative to my life”. WRONG.
Anyone, despite race, location, gender or sexual identity, who is sexually active is at risk of any sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
This blog is not meant to scare anyone off having sex but to encourage everyone to practice safe sex and have regular check-ups for you and any future partners.
The statistics I mentioned earlier are relative for people who know their HIV status however there are still far too many people living in the UK who do not know that they are HIV positive. Being unaware of your status does not only leaving yourself open to further health complications but also runs the risk of passing on the virus to a partner. With our knowledge and available treatment here in the UK, there is no reason why we shouldn’t all be tested. HIV is something that can affect anyone, and it is everyone’s responsibility to help end it.
There are so many amazing individuals who are brave enough to share their personal experiences of living with HIV and hearing them talk is an inspiration to us all. But even if you don’t have a personal experience of HIV, you can still you can contribute to the campaign to end HIV and AIDS! Again, this is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility.
How can you get involved?!
There are a number of brilliant HIV charities and organisations you can get involved with, providing a range of services, support and participating in campaigning.
I volunteer with Youth Stop AIDS. We speak out, take creative action and engage people in power to campaign for a world without AIDS. We work across the UK and have local campaign groups set up in a lot of cities. The opportunities are endless and you can do anything from fundraising at a bake sale to meeting with your local MP.
Currently, The two main Youth Stop AIDS focus areas are:
It Ain’t Over: exploring ways we can keep the pressure on government who have taken their eye off the ball. HIV is no longer a death sentence, but we need to keep up the funding and hard work to ensure we can continue to provide the needed services. AIDS can be ended by 2030 with the right actions taken.
Missing Medicines: some people across the world don’t have access to the correct drugs due to pricing and missing medicines. The system is failing, and a lot of pharmaceutical companies prioritise MASSIVE profits over getting drugs to those who need them. Right now, only 52% of children globally living with HIV have access to treatment. We campaign on ways to change this because we believe everyone has the right to access medication.
AIDS can be ended by 2030 if we keep our eyes on the ball and all continue to work hard.