World AIDS Day: ‘Kissing Doesn't Spread HIV - Ignorance Does'

Author:Ms Karen Taylor

World AIDS Day, held on the 1st December each year, provides an opportunity for people to unite in the fight against HIV1 and show their support for people living with, or having died as a result of, HIV. At the time of the first World AIDS Day, in 1988, the world was traumatised by HIV as becoming infected was seen as a death sentence. Today, for those with access to treatment, this deathly prognosis has been lifted and indeed the outcome has been largely positive for more than a decade. This weekend, the sudden proliferation of people in the media wearing red ribbons caused me to reflect on the origin of this symbol of support, especially as initially I had to be reminded what it signified. This is turn made me realise that the public campaigning for and media coverage of HIV/AIDS is now much less overt than 10/20 years ago, and consequently people's awareness may also be diminishing. While this is a renowned global problem2, this week's blog explores this topic in relation to developments in the UK over these past 30 years.

Without doubt, the key development in the fight against HIV/AIDS was the advent of antiretroviral drugs which enable people with HIV to reduce their viral level to the extent that they cannot pass on the virus and can live near-normal lives. Thanks to these modern drugs, the discovery that you are infected does not carry the crushing burden it once did, conversely, the availability of a successful treatment appears to be increasing complacency of those at risk. Public health experts warn that for all the advances that have been made, the battle is not yet won. In the UK, in 2014, some 103,700 people are thought to be living with HIV with 6,151 newly diagnosed cases. New diagnoses peaked in 2005 and have since declined. Fewer of those infected go on to develop Aids, but more than 600 people a year still die of the disease, mostly those in whom the infection was spotted late, indeed detection remains the weakest link.3

International targets are that 90 per cent of those with HIV infection should be diagnosed; of these, 90 per cent or more should be on sustained therapy with modern drugs; and of these, 90 per cent or more should have such a low level of the virus in their bodies that they cannot pass on the infection. While the UK achieves the latter two targets, it does less well on detection. People diagnosed late are ten times more likely to die in the first year of diagnosis compared to those diagnosed promptly...

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