World Aids Day
1st December every year is World AIDS day and an opportunity to raise awareness. Since the first World AIDS Day in 1988, there have been massive advancements made in treatment and management of HIV, the virus which can lead to AIDS. So much so that people who become infected with HIV, when diagnosed promptly with access to modern treatments can expect to live a long and healthy life and a normal life span. Why then, I often wonder, should people living with HIV, a manageable health condition has to put up with stigmatized negative attitudes?
Unfortunately, social attitudes and awareness around HIV that I often encounter have not necessarily advanced along with medical progress. This perpetuates fear and stigma, the effects of which such as rejection, judgement or hostility are still a major issue for people living with HIV, their communities and creates barriers for many people to get tested.
“Who can I trust to tell?” – “What’s the reaction going to be if I tell him?” – “Will I be bullied on social media if people know I have HIV?” are more often the type of worrying questions people living with HIV may face rather than questions around physical health.
Late HIV diagnosis is defined as a CD4 count of less than 350 cells/mm3 (the UK bench mark for when HIV treatment should be started) within three months of HIV diagnosis. Reducing late HIV diagnosis is a priority because people diagnosed late will have been living with an undiagnosed HIV infection for a significant period of time and would be at risk of premature death (from HIV related illness) and of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners (as the HIV will have been uncontrolled by HIV treatment, making the infected person more infectious through unprotected sex). Whereas for someone who has been diagnosed and is on HIV treatment, their viral load (the amount of HIV in their body fluids) usually becomes undetectable. The risk of transmitting HIV is dramatically reduced when people have an undetectable viral load.
In attempting to reduce late diagnosis we must also tackle the stigma that exists too by raising awareness and educating people about the realities of the condition and dispelling fears around getting tested.
Stigma, fear, ignorance, call it what you will, creates not only difficulties for those living with HIV and those close to them but also acts as a major barrier to people getting tested regularly. HIV is still an issue that affects us as an LGBT community, with over half of all new diagnosis last year were among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men*, and 39% of adults were diagnosed at late stage of infection* (*Public Health England) So this World AIDS day, we’ll be showing our support and hope that we can make a difference.
Why is it a good idea to have a regular HIV test?
Reducing late diagnosis through regular HIV testing is our recommendation because if you have been infected with HIV, the sooner you find out, the better it is for your health and the sooner you could get the right support and treatment. If you have HIV for a long time without knowing, it can damage your health and even shorten your life, and increase chances of unwittingly passing on the virus.
For anyone who may get a reactive test result, our team will support you through a fast track referral process into the care of the Umbrella clinical team.
If your test result is negative you can end any worries or doubt.
It’s recommended to get tested at least once a year or more often if you have unprotected sex with more sexual partners.