This year marks the 25th anniversary of NAT (National AIDS Trust) and the 25th World AIDS Day. In this time, we've seen HIV in the UK change from being a death sentence to a manageable long-term condition. More recently, we've seen HIV treatment advance from complex regimes with debilitating side-effects to, for most people, one to two pills a day with far fewer complications. HIV test results have gone from taking weeks to arrive to rapid tests with the results there and then.
With all these positive changes and advances, why, then, is public awareness and understanding of HIV significantly lower today than it was 10 years ago?
Recent Ipsos MORI research commissioned by NAT shows many people are still confused about the ways in which HIV is and isn't passed on. HIV-related stigma and prejudice is still a problem and HIV remains a 'taboo' subject that many people would rather brush under the carpet - believing it only affects 'other' people. Inaccurate and stigmatising media reporting hasn't helped, with frequent misuses of the term 'AIDS', 'deadly virus' and derogatory language aimed at people living with HIV.
This lack of awareness and the fact that HIV and HIV-related risk still isn't openly talked about has a very real effect on the ground. The latest Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures show there were an estimated 3,010 new diagnoses among gay men in 2011 - the highest annual figure since records began. Nearly a quarter of people with HIV (24%) remain unaware of their infection and the proportion of late diagnoses (indicating people have been infected for over five years) remains worryingly high at 47%.
To tackle this problem, we must increase understanding about HIV - how it's passed on, how people can protect themselves and others and importantly how and where to get a free, confidential test if you put yourself at risk.
It is a challenge for those of us campaigning for a better understanding of HIV to come up with new ways to engage an increasingly distracted and time-poor public. Especially as HIV is often usurped by more fashionable and popular charities and causes. But it's really important we keep doing this. One of the creative ways we've been engaging people on HIV this year is through our red ribbon artwork collection.
This year we asked a group of our high-profile supporters to create a unique piece of red ribbon art as a 25th birthday present for NAT. The red ribbon is the international symbol of HIV awareness and support and we received art from a wide range of people. From celebrities - Annie Lennox, Gok Wan, and Dr Christian Jessen - to critically acclaimed artists - Maggi Hambling, Rob Ryan and Robert Taylor - and fashion designers - Paul Smith, Matthew Williamson, Philip Treacy, Daniel Lismore and Giles Deacon - plus many more.
To mark World AIDS Day and the 25th anniversary of NAT, we have launched an exhibition of this red ribbon artwork at London's City Hall, running until 7 December. The art is also available to buy via an online auction. We hope this artwork will raise awareness by putting a positive spotlight on a stigmatised issue and will inspire people to learn more about HIV and think differently about what it means to live with HIV in the UK today.
If you're wondering how you can mark World AIDS Day, there is always something you can do - no matter how big or small. Test your knowledge and awareness by taking our quiz 'Are you HIV Aware' Find out the facts about HIV by visiting www.HIVaware.org.uk and if you can't get down to City Hall to view the artwork, you can view it all on our auction site.
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