World Aids Day marked across the East London line

Photo: Jayel Aheram

London will be seeing red today, as World AIDS Day events and campaigns take place across the capital.

Started on December 1, 1988, World AIDS day is an annual global event that raises money and awareness about AIDS and HIV. This year’s theme is ‘Universal Access and Human Rights.’

Mayor Boris Johnson is calling on Londoners to help tackle HIV by fighting prejudice and getting informed about their sexual health.

“It is our duty to keep HIV on the agenda, but I urge everyone to take personal responsibility to protect yourself and others against the condition. Whether directly affected or not, let’s stand shoulder to shoulder, show our support and challenge the stigma,” he said.

According to the latest figures from the Health Protection Agency, the number of people living with HIV in the UK is 86,500. Half of these people live in London, with Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Croydon having a high prevalence of HIV within the capital.

The number of people living with HIV is affected by many factors, including a high population of men who have sex with men, high immigration of Black African and other ethnic groups with a high endemic prevalence of HIV and a large number of injecting drug users.

Hackney will celebrate World Aids Day with a visit from London’s Deputy Mayor, Richard Barnes, at the Mildmay Mission Hospital on Hackney Road.

The Deputy Mayor said: “World AIDS Day is an important reminder of the consequences of HIV on communities here in London and across the world. Three decades since it was first discovered, we continue to lose friends and loved ones, and people are still getting infected, which is why the safer sex message is so important”.

Mildmay Mission Hospital opened in 1987 and was the first HIV/AIDS hospice in Europe.

Hackney is also launching a four week ‘SHO me’ campaign today, which will try to give the community greater access to sexual health services. A mobile unit will travel across the borough giving HIV, Chlamydia and pregnancy testing as well as free condoms. Visitors will be able to discuss their sexual health in confidence with trained staff in the unit’s private consultation room.

Dr Lesley Mountford, Joint Director of Health at City and Hackney Primary Care Trust said the sexual health roadshow would help them spread the message about HIV and AIDS.

“This is an ambitious campaign tackling a highly sensitive issue. By taking screening services and information right into the heart of the community, we particularly want to reach young and old people, who would not necessarily visit their GP or hospital.”

Lewisham health services are encouraging people to get tested early to prevent any further damage that the virus may cause.

Chris Baguma, NHS Lewisham HIV Health Improvement Programme Manager said: “In Lewisham  41 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV are classified as ‘late diagnosis’ which means that they are likely to have had HIV for some time and may already be unwell.”

“If HIV infection is detected early, then treatment can keep people well and dramatically reduce the chances of them passing the infection on to others,” he added.

Similarly, Croydon’s World AIDS day message focuses on encouraging people to get tested immediately for HIV. Dr Ellen Schwartz, Public Health Lead for Sexual Health at NHS Croydon called on people who may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection to seek help early.

“HIV testing nowadays is quick and straightforward”, she said. “In some cases it may be possible to take a test and receive the results in one visit.”

Tower Hamlets is putting local pharmacies at the heart of its World AIDS Day campaign. Their month long campaign aims to shift public perception of community pharmacies simply being a place that supplies medicines.  They will be promoting their services, which includes Chlamydia and gonorrhoea testing, emergency contraception and information on HIV testing.

Other events planned for today include the launch of a major exhibition by photographer Rankin at City Hall, which will feature AIDS activists and those affected by HIV. Landmarks around the world will be turned red, including the fountains in Trafalgar Square.

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