My son Matthew was born in 1967, the same year as the decriminalisation of homosexuality. He loves London, all things theatrical and his family. He has a cat, a flat and a husband. He exercises regularly and daily eats nine portions of different fruit and vegetable. He is eloquent, charming and fearless in his commitment to his job as CEO of an AIDS charity. He is healthy and he is living with HIV.
On 1st December it will be World AIDS Day. On this day, some people will wear a Red Ribbon, in remembrance of those who have died of AIDS and to acknowledge those who are living healthily with the virus.
Thirty years ago, when World AIDS Day was first marked, an HIV-positive diagnosis was considered a death sentence. Remember the government leaflet posted through every door with a picture of a tombstone and the caption, ‘Don’t die of ignorance’? Today the situation has changed. Public Health England have just announced that someone who is diagnosed with HIV promptly, and who takes HIV treatment, has the exact same life-expectancy as someone who is uninfected. The death sentence has gone but the ignorance remains, bringing with it the stigma that still surrounds HIV.
The current HIV medication so reduces the levels of virus in the body that it is no longer detectable using standard tests. When someone with HIV becomes undetectable they can no longer pass the virus on to their sexual partners. This makes it realistic that within our grandchildren’s lifetime there could no longer be an infection leading to AIDS. Isn’t it time that we stopped treating people who are HIV as a threat to our own health?
Being HIV is not unlike being diabetic: take the medication, do all the stuff to keep yourself well and you will have a normal life expectancy. So, for me it’s important to wear the Red Ribbon and to talk about how proud I am to be Matthew’s Mum.
I hope that this World AIDS Day you will also wear the Red Ribbon and help to challenge the ignorance and fear that still surrounds this disease.
For more information about HIV/AIDS see aidsmap.com (news and factsheets about HIV and AIDS for all communities) / GMFA.org.uk (information about HIV and sexual health, specifically for gay and bisexual men) / THT.org.uk (information about HIV and sexual health) / doitlondon.org (information about HIV prevention and testing for Londoners).