Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Will Harris from the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) says gay and bisexual men should not wait for a cure when it comes to halting the spread of HIV.
Two months ago, they announced “the cure”. At an otherwise ordinary conference in Atlanta, a team of US virologists revealed the extraordinary news that a child who had been born with HIV two years earlier was now a happy, healthy toddler, to all intents and purposes free from infection. The drugs had worked, they said. It was the beginning of the end.
The trouble is, it wasn’t. The image of a small child bringing about the downfall of one of the great scourges of our times might have made fabulous headline fodder, but the reality was that researchers had been left with more questions than answers. More worrying still, it left countless numbers of people believing a miracle cure was sitting in a warehouse somewhere, awaiting dispatch.
There is no cure for HIV. There may not be one in my lifetime or yours. We can wait and we can hope, but neither of these things is going to keep the people you know now – friends, partners, that guy you have your eye on at spin class – free from infection in the future.
Today in the UK, a gay man is diagnosed every three hours, often when the virus has already damaged his body beyond repair. Last year saw the highest number of HIV diagnoses among gay and bi men since the epidemic began. This year, that figure may be higher still.
At Terrence Higgins Trust we believe there will be a cure one day, but why wait? The drugs we have already are so effective that, if someone is on antiretroviral therapy and sticking to it, they are essentially non-infectious. The real challenge is getting the estimated 8,000 gay and bi men in the UK who have HIV but don’t know it yet (and therefore have untreated virus in their bodies) onto effective treatment. If we could do that, new infections within the community would drop off a cliff. We could halt the spread of HIV. And we could do it within a generation.
This, in case you hadn’t guessed yet, is where you come in. HIV Prevention England has launched a campaign called It Starts With Me, which you will be seeing a lot of over the next two years. The ‘Me’ in this case is in fact you, reading this right now. It is also me, and my friend Michael, and your ex-boyfriend, and his new boyfriend, and the barman you had a bit of banter with last Friday night, and the bears at Tonker, and the boys at G-A-Y, and the poor sod who flashes up on Grindr when you’re on a train speeding through the wilds of Northumberland. It’s all of us, each putting in a little bit of effort to protect not just our own health but others too.
So what are we asking for? Well, here are two things you can do right off the bat, both of which will take you less than quarter of an hour. First, head over to http://www.startswithme.org.uk/ and take our short quiz to find out your personal risk.
From the website, you can locate your nearest clinic, buy discount condoms, even order an HIV test kit through the post.
Once you’ve done that, tell someone you know about the campaign. It doesn’t matter who. It might be a friend or partner, it might be everyone on your Twitter feed. We have to get the message out there that together, we can stop HIV. If enough of us can spare 15 minutes to follow these two simple steps, we really will have started something.
Will Harris works for the Terrence Higgins Trust.