Words by Alice Stevens, Arts Online Editor
World AIDS Day on the 1st of December is a poignant time of reflection and celebration, where millions around the world come together to show their solidarity by supporting those affected by HIV, commemorating those we have lost, and challenging the stigma.
On the 18th of November, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved the first long-acting injectable treatment for HIV. This additional treatment plan is incredible news for those living with HIV as they now have an alternative to daily tablets. So for those who are undetectable (as a result of medication the virus is at a low level and is thus undetectable in the blood), they will be able to opt for the long-acting injectable medication which is administered every two months. Although this new treatment option is a great step in the right direction, we know that a commitment to equitable access for testing is the key to ending HIV transmissions. This is especially poignant as we meet the 40th anniversary of the passing of Terry Higgins, one of the first people to die from AIDS-related illnesses in the UK. So if we want to end HIV transmissions by 2030, we cannot forget the progress we still need to achieve. Although there has been a drop in new diagnoses, the estimates suggest in 2019 there were 105,200 people living with HIV in the UK, where over 6,000 were undiagnosed, meaning they are unaware they are HIV positive and thus cannot access treatment. (Tht.org.uk, 2019) So that’s why this year, Terrence Higgins Trust are focussing on testing.
Terrence Higgins Trust is the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity that supports those living with HIV through campaigning for cultural and legislative change, especially with regards to testing and ending HIV stigma. Some of their free services include counselling, their THT Direct helpline, grants for those struggling to get back on their feet after an HIV diagnosis, employment advice, and training. One of their new projects titled ‘Their Stories, your Choice’, is an interactive short film series that allows viewers to make choices for the characters as they navigate through the complexities of love, sex, families, and HIV.
The main focus of the series is tackling HIV within BAME communities by presenting real-life experiences of living with HIV. The short films are an excellent way to highlight and educate audiences on issues such as how the law works in relation to HIV, how to tell your partner about an HIV diagnosis, and the importance of testing.
As mentioned, some groups are disproportionately affected by HIV. THT has found that “of the 4,139 people diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2019, 41% were gay or bisexual men. Of the 1,559 heterosexual people diagnosed with HIV in 2019, 37% were black African men and women.” This data helps reflect how stigma, racism, homophobia and poverty all impact chances of contracting the disease. This is why the concept of intersectionality is crucial as it allows us to acknowledge how the social locations of individuals make their lived experiences qualitatively different.
If you would like to watch the short film series or find out more information about HIV testing, check out the Terrence Higgins website. https://www.tht.org.uk/our-work/community-projects/their-story-your-choice