Today is World AIDS Day and, once again, it looks like the western world really does need its annual reminder that this terrible disease is still very much a threat. Although excellent antiretroviral therapies have resulted in a large reduction in both deaths and incidences of HIV developing into full-blown AIDS, not everyone has access to such medication. The website of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) states that:
HIV is associated with serious morbidity, high costs of treatment and care, significant mortality and high number of potential years of life lost. Thousands of individuals are diagnosed with HIV each year. The infection is still frequently regarded as stigmatising and has a prolonged ‘silent’ period during which it often remains undiagnosed. Anti-retroviral therapy has resulted in substantial reductions in AIDS incidence and deaths in the UK. People diagnosed promptly with HIV can expect near normal life expectancy. Challenges remain, with high rates of late HIV diagnoses and an ageing population.
According to NAT, in 2012, an estimated 98,4000 people were living with HIV in the UK. Of these, 22% were unaware of their HIV infection. So, what can we do? Awareness and prevention is by far the best approach to preventing a rise in these figures so make sure you know your HIV status and always use a barrier method when having penetrative sex with someone whose HIV status is unknown to you. Unless you and your partner(s) have been recently tested and both have a clean bill of sexual health, by far the safest way to have sex is to rubber up before getting down to business.
If you haven’t been tested, have you ever considered it? In the UK, visiting a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic is a fantastic route to the safest sex you’ll ever have. You can get tested for STIs, get advice and also get free condoms! Everything is discussed in confidence, you don’t have to use your real name, and the doctors there won’t even tell your GP so there is no need to be embarrassed about anything.
What’s stopping you? You shouldn’t be waiting to get tested when you think you’ve got something, you should be doing it regularly to prove that you haven’t. Surely taking a morning off work to get everything checked out is a small price to pay? Most importantly though: spread the word. It’s only when people are scared of HIV and AIDS that they are motivated to change their behaviour.