In this horrible year, it has been really tempting to despair. From Syria and ISIS to Brexit and Trump, it sometimes feels like we're being tugged together over a cliff. But when I feel that sense of bleakness coming, and I want to give up, I remember something that happened to me, a long time ago now. I want to share it with you, as a small candle in the darkness of 2016.
HIV no longer has to prevent people living normal, happy and long lives - but we know that it does. There is still no cure, and without treatment, people will die. Meanwhile HIV services are being cut, stigma is rife, and we're now facing the first generation of people to grow old with HIV. We can't stop now - it's not over. On World AIDS Day at Terrence Higgins Trust, we're still fighting, still caring and still wearing our red ribbons with pride. It may be just one day out of 365 - but thank goodness we've got that one day.
A long-term condition framework for understanding HIV is not yet fully embedded within the thinking of the general public, the media, politicians - or our NHS. The framing of HIV as a long-term condition has not replaced the dominant image of HIV as a serious, communicable disease, which is ultimately fatal but for the constant innovation of medical science.
While making PrEP available is ultimately a decision for NHS England, rather than for politicians, I hope they will take steps to make PrEP available to people considered to be at high risk of catching the virus, without further delay. This could have an enormous impact on the lives of countless numbers of people in high-risk groups and be a vast improvement on our current approach, which wastes NHS resources and has let down far too many people.
We are fortunate that for the most part, World AIDS Day is no longer about life or death but it is about realising our next challenge. A challenge that utilises education to both inform wider society people about the virus but also to empower people to make informed choices about sex so we can end future transmissions of HIV, forever.
The current ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood within 12 months of them last having sex is medically unjustified discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is premised on a generalisation about men who have sex with men.The government should cut the basic exclusion period to three months, dependent on the risk factors associated with each individual donor. These risk factors include not only HIV but also other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). Protecting the blood supply is the number one priority but ensuring blood safety does not require a rule that no gay or bisexual man can donate blood for a year since his last same-sex experience.
The awareness-raising we and many others have been doing this week is truly crucial in the fight against HIV: because the stigma that surrounds the infection, and that at least one of our celebrity ambassadors has noticed on social media in this last week, drives a reluctance to test which actively promotes the continued spread of HIV.