Virtually a year ago to the day, we devoted a special report to World AIDS Day, our “Fight The Good Fight” post at http://discomattpreview.blogspot.com/2010/12/fight-good-fight-dm-reports-world-aids.html not just a personal reflection of HIV & AIDS, but a look back across the history of the fight against this global epidemic, we also expressing our views on the issues, so on the anniversary of our first devotion to the subject, we felt it only appropriate to once again report, not just on World AIDS Day, but add to that special post last year, more information, more personal reflections & more recommendations on how, like us, you can play your part in this special day in our lives.
So, where do we start?, well with another year approaching its final month, mark twelve more months that we, along with many, continue to live with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, commonly abbreviated as HIV, this condition rather than a disease, in our case, very much under control by a cocktail of powerful drugs under the label of combination therapy. Having been diagnosed back in 1996, we have become used to living with HIV, our daily medication regime the only infringement on carrying on with our life as normal, while we made a conscious decision to be open about the subject, both in terms of disclosure to friends, to family & even to employers, the stigma that HIV carries nowhere near as heightened as it was when the virus emerged back in the 1980’s. Indeed, the understanding around the condition among the wider world has improved no end since those dreaded days when AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was taking so many lives, the realisation that this was not simply a “…gay disease…” rather a sexually transmitted virus that can also be spread through the blood stream, or at least HIV infected blood, allowing the medical world to react so much better to the issue than they could when those thousands of deaths were baffling them.
Since then, science has continued to evolve in the HIV world and the combination therapy (also known as antiretroviral treatment) available to those infected by the virus has improved no end, an ever increasing amount of drugs now on the market to suit individuals & their reactions to this invasive medication which, like all similar style drugs, can have alarming side effects. Yet, being given a comparable life expectancy to the person next to you, having HIV doesn’t now signal a death sentence as it did 30 years ago, although we in the developed world can count ourselves extremely lucky that access to this combination in an affordable, but moreover, accessible option, this not always the case across Africa & in other third world states on this earth. But without the science, without the organisations & without the support of the public, the huge strides made in combating the spread of HIV &, as a result, the threat of AIDS, could be in serious jeopardy, the quest to quell what is now recognised as the world’s biggest epidemic, the statistics pretty baffling, just one example reflecting those living with HIV increasing from 8 million in 1990 to a staggering 33 million in 2009, this figure looking like reaching 40 million by the end of this year. That said, through the understanding of the virus, the medical world is armed to treat HIV in a much more effective way and, while that singular figure comparison is quite shocking, digging deeper we find that in actual fact the annual number of new HIV infections has steadily declined and, due to more people in receipt of antiretroviral drugs, the number of AIDS related deaths has also declined, year on year.
Yet while the understanding around both HIV & AIDS has improved dramatically & the epidemic appears to be under control, there still remains a fear in many, not just of contracting HIV but being tested, late diagnosis only this morning hitting the headlines in news shows on the capital’s television stations, this fear & reluctance sometimes sacrificing precious time in which to treat & control the virus without the need to complex & invasive drug regimes. So, as World Aids Day arrives, organisations are naturally urging those, especially within the gay community here in the capital, a community where late diagnosis is become a big problem, to get tested & if necessary receive the available support both in terms of treatment & advice. Indeed, with the wealth of clinics available around London, access to this much need support is very much on tap, we being able to count ourselves lucky compared to other parts of the world were this is either not free at the point of service or worse, is not available at all. Therefore, if you are either thinking of getting tested, or want support & advice on making this, what can be for some, bold decision, then make now, either by choosing a clinic available at many of the major hospitals in the capital, including St Mary’s in Paddington, The Royal Free in Hampstead & The Chelsea & Westminster on Fulham Rd. However, if you are not bold enough to pitch up to a hospital, then there are a wide variety of small clinics dotted around the capital that can provide you with that discreet feeling that the hospitals may not, a great example being “56 Dean Street” in Soho, its locale very much speaking for itself in this respect. Plus, the added benefit of this small & unobtrusive clinic is that it has the full medical might of The Chelsea & Westminster Hospital behind it, without that implied stigma of walking into a huge hospital, so come highly recommended.
Another option is to decide to get tested this coming Thursday (1st Dec) by helping towards the attempt by 56 Dean Street Clinic & G.A.Y. Bar to set a Guinness World Record for administering the most HIV tests in 8 hours and in doing so be part of the process that raises much needed funds for HIV & AIDS charities. So how does it work? Well, you can literally pitch up at G.A.Y. Bar on Old Compton St anytime from 2 till 10 p.m. on Thursday, where an expert team from 56 Dean St Clinic will be on hand to provide entirely discreet testing & support services at each of the nine HIV testing stations throughout the venue, while advance forms are available from the bar &/or in this week’s copy of QX magazine. And as part of G.A.Y.’s commitment to this process, they will be donating £10 for every person tested to The Elton John AIDS Foundation, G.A.Y.’s owner Jeremy Joseph quoted as saying “…give us two minutes of your time on Thursday and we will do the donating…” he adding that “…if 1000 people get tested that’s £10, 000 for charity…”. Over & above that, remember that G.A.Y. Bar offers testing in their basement bar every Wednesday, Jeremy saying of this initiative “…the idea is to normalise getting an HIV test & take the stigma away from it…” Mr Joseph a strong believer that “…Getting tested should be as natural & regular as going to the dentist…” and when you consider that medical experts say that the most common reason for people that die from AIDS related illnesses is due to late diagnosis, taking that two minutes out of your day to get tested could not just prolong but save your life.
Now back to this Thursday1st December, this date in the diary now recognised around the globe as World Aids Day (WAD for short), a whole host of events taking place here in the capital to mark the occasion, our choice picks covered off in an Extra Bites recommends post “Red Ribbon Day Devotions” coming up. But events aside, this is a day & a date that has powerful meaning for those from the generation that lost close friends & loved ones to AIDS during the 1980’s, the wearing of a red ribbon a small gesture of support for the onward fight against HIV & AIDS. That said, maybe fight is too strong a word, although despite the huge advances in medical science, that illusive cure for HIV remains a goal yet to be achieved, although the unrelenting medical research that takes place around the world each & every day has this sole achievement in mind, that along with yet further increasing the understanding of HIV & its effects, along with the treatment of the virus & of AIDS. However, all this research doesn’t come cheap and the long list of charities around the globe look to donations from the public to help support this whole process, although choosing a charity is perhaps a matter of personal consideration. That said, let’s give you just a handful of choices & recommendations from the wave of charities both here in the UK & internationally, The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) one of the most well known & established HIV & AIDS charity in the UK and one that provides a whole range of services & support, further details out at http://www.tht.org.uk/, while The Elton John AIDS Foundation is one we have already mentioned & was launched in the USA in 1992 by Sir Elton John, like THT, offering a wide range of services & support more information on their services out at http://www.ejaf.org/. Then there is The Albert Kennedy Trust, one launched here in London but now UK wide, offering support to young LGBT (that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) people who have been made homeless or are living in hostile environments, while Avert is one based here in the UK but is recognised internationally, not least for its information based services, so well worth a visit at http://www.avert.org/, even if you are not inclined to donate to their or any of these charities’ causes.
But let’s get back to the title of our special report, “Red Ribbon Day” being our simple synopsis of this coming Thursday, World AIDS Day, when hundreds & thousands of people will show their support by wearing their ribbon with pride, while the theme of this year’s WAD has much deeper meaning, “Getting To Zero” aiming to, after 30 years of the fight (yes we use that word again) against HIV & AIDS, the global community has committed to focussing on three targets, that being zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination & zero AIDS related deaths, targets that are pretty challenging to say the least. However, progress towards meeting these targets has already started, as, statically, annual new HIV infections have dropped by 15% since 2001 and AIDS related deaths have declined from 2.2 million in 2005 to 1.8 million in 2010. Stats aside, the achievements of individuals, communities and political leaders over the last 30 years in reducing discrimination & stigma towards those living with or affected by HIV has been remarkable & are very much reflected in the impressive forward strides that are evident around the world today. However, getting to zero requires the global community to continue its commitment to universal access to antiretroviral treatment, to delivering HIV and AIDS education and to eliminating all forms of stigma and discrimination and why charities like those we have listed above, are vital components in achieving these goals. Now if that isn’t a powerful enough statement to encourage donations, we don’t know what is, but in joining us by merely buying & then wearing a red ribbon with pride on Thursday, you can not just show that you are positively aware, but can also be making a difference & doing your part. (DISCO MATT)