Sunday past was World AIDS Day when we should come together to think about those with living with HIV and... well what? That's probably the question we should all be asking.
World AIDS Day was created by the World Health Organisation 25 years ago to raise awareness of HIV. Various themes were adopted for each year to highlight the needs of specific populations and activism. Personally I recall World AIDS Day being a time when people wore red ribbons in solidarity, a time for remembering all those who had died through AIDS related illnesses and for fighting for research, rights to healthcare and latterly access to treatments.
However in 2013 when we talk about HIV instead of AIDS, when medications increasingly mean HIV can be considered a long-term condition, when AIDS related deaths are falling and when treatments are becoming more accessible across the globe what does World AIDS Day mean?
This year there was little in the way of public awareness. There were no articles on Sky or BBC news or on the front page of any of the Sunday nationals. No red ribbons for BBC's and Sky's news anchors. For a brief moment I thought Brucie was wearing a red ribbon on Strictly Come Dancing, but when the camera came in for a close up, it revealed only a red pocket square. It was only on X-Factor where we found Dermot and all the X Factor judges wearing an assortment of fashionable ribbons.
Across the UK there were events. Lerwick in the Shetland Islands shone turned its buildings red with spotlights and Brighton unveiled the world's largest Red Ribbon. However there was no event of note in London where just under half of the people living with HIV in the UK live.
There was coverage across local press from Belfast to Liverpool focusing on the need for testing. The week running up to World AIDS Day is National HIV Testing Week in the UK and now European HIV Testing Week. Testing certainly needs to be promoted. The Halve IT campaign persuaded a number of MPs to take a test raising awareness at least on the political agenda. However testing is only part of the story, with new diagnoses particularly in the gay community where 2,400 gay men acquire HIV every year, how do we best support people manage their sexual health? What do we have in place to support someone who tests HIV positive?
HIV still carries with it a stigma in society. People with HIV will have higher rates of poor mental health (more about that in my next blog), are more likely to experience violence from partners and encounter prejudice and discrimination.
The HIV community and voluntary sector have launched an e-petition calling on Government to debate these issues. Running for several months the petition is not just about gaining signatures, but about raising awareness http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54009. Please sign but also join in the debate about what World AIDS Day means and how we can raise awareness, provide support and show compassion towards people living with HIV in the UK and across the world.