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World AIDS day is a reminder to get talking, testing and take action

Tuesday 01-12-2015 - 14:30

Every year on 1 December we focus on the fight against the stigma and misconceptions associated with HIV/AIDS, World AIDS day has always been and is an incredibly important part of these campaigns.

Today is World AIDS day. Every year on 1 December we focus on the fight against the stigma and misconceptions associated with HIV/AIDS, raise funds and most importantly promote HIV testing for all. World AIDS day has always been and is an incredibly important part of these campaigns.

So if we’re talking about challenging misconceptions, let’s start with the facts instead. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus which can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Medicines and treatment have been developed with great speed since HIV was first discovered some 30 years ago, meaning that people can now live with HIV for years without developing AIDS. That means that with treatment most people living with HIV in the UK live to near normal life expectancy despite the fact there is currently no cure or vaccination.

 

In 2011 about 96,000 people were living with HIV in the UK but it is estimated that 25% of these are unaware of their status. This shows the work we have to do to ensure we start talking more about HIV including how you test and why you test. We must also do everything we can to fight the stigma and stereotypes that are perpetuated about those who are living with HIV and HIV itself. In 2011 there were 6,280 new diagnoses in the UK. 3,010 (48%) were men who have sex with men, with roughly the same number contracting the virus via Heterosexual sex. Public Health England data shows that among younger MSM (aged 15 to 24), HIV diagnoses have doubled in ten years. Now, this increase is partly because there has been an increase in HIV testing amongst MSM, but let’s also be honest - this is because rates of HIV transmission remain high.

In 2013 the highest number of new HIV diagnoses were recorded for MSM. Without the facts, the knowledge and support this trend will only continue and get worse. As LGBT+ officer I want to ensure we see more and more people within our community who are equipped with the knowledge around HIV and are educated about safer sex but most importantly supported to ensure they prioritise their health.

 

In the past 30 years the approaches since the discovery of HIV/AIDS of the government, health officials and our own community have been a long journey and worked to change the perception of those living with HIV and the definition of AIDS itself. This has been a progressive journey and I think that we’re now at a place where we can have the conversations we’ve needed for some time – not least because there are now no laws restricting us talking about sexual health for LGBT+ people. We have a long way to go and I am clear that more needs to be done to address these clear failings of the past. We all know the power of education, how it can transform lives and transform society as a whole. But our education and the future of young LGBT people, is being damaged by a lack of education and a lack of action.

Research conducted by the National AIDS Trust (NAT) found that 55 per cent of surveyed respondents had experienced bullying and discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Of those who had experienced bullying, 99 per cent had been bullied or discriminated against by a pupil at school. Furthermore, three quarters had been bullied or discriminated against by someone online on social media or apps.

It is clear a major cause of bullying and stigma comes from a lack of education around LGBT+ relationships. Yet research shows that three quarters of people surveyed in had not received any information, advice or support about same-sex relationships and attraction in SRE and that a third had not received any information on HIV transmission and safer sex. What is even more concerning is that over two-thirds had not received any information on HIV testing. It is outrageous that in 2015 our education system still fails to deliver an inclusive education system or act to improve sex and relationship education in our schools. The Minister for Education said that we need to address LGBT+ bullying in schools. That talk is welcome, but I ask where the action is?

That is why on World AIDS day I think we all need to stand up and reaffirm our commitment that every person in the UK should have access to the Sex and Relationship Education that they deserve. This year I have been working on the policy that has been passed at the NUS LGBT+ conference, by writing to Nicky Morgan and her team, while also working on the policy passed at National conference within the Society and Citizenship zone around Sex and Relationship education and our schools curriculum. This is a massive problem for the young LGBT+ community and we need our government to do more.

Today we need to remember all those who have lost their lives and those who have too often been let down by a lack of education, knowledge and power to prioritise their own health. So today let’s take this forward together and share the facts, challenge the stigma and support those living with HIV and use the power of education as a whole. This starts in our classrooms, in our lecture theatres and in our students’ unions.

Make sure you get talking, oh, and get tested while you’re at it!

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