World AIDS Day: Calls for support for sufferers amid parallel pandemics

AIDS red ribbon. Pic: Anna Shvets

Organisations across the Eastlondonlines boroughs marked World AIDS Day on December 1 by calling for wider access to testing and support to help people with HIV live better lives.

While many praised the progress made in London in fighting AIDS, others highlighted that the coronavirus pandemic has made access to services for HIV-positive people, including diagnoses and counselling, more difficult.

Jacob Swallow of East London-based lesbian and gay centre elop told Eastlondonlines that the Covid lockdowns have helped to slow the rate of HIV transmission. But they also raise new issues. He said: “It is hard not to consider the stark similarity between [coronavirus and] the [1980s] AIDs crisis… The isolation harboured by COVID-19 echoes the fear and loneliness faced by so many of our community who had no voice.

“For many it will bring up difficult memories and potential trauma, as well as the parallels the toll of the crisis is taking on caregivers and health care workers in today’s pandemic and the rising death tolls.”

Elop is hosting an online concert, available to stream for the next week, to raise funds and awareness for its counselling and support services as well as Positive East, a HIV charity in Mile End.

The event will feature East London artists and musicians including Sing Tower Hamlets, Gay Mens Dance Company, a capella group the Barberfellas, Women Sing East and the Met Police Choir. Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs will introduce the concert.

Biggs said today in a tweet: “Today is about remembrance, solidarity and celebration. It’s about remembering those who lost their lives… and that HIV and AIDS continue to have a huge impact on people’s lives today.”

Positive East launched a pop-up shop selling t-shirts designed by 14 artists, including Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans, inspired by the intersection between HIV activism and visual artistry.

Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville praised the wider availability of PrEP, a preventative treatment which reduces the risk of contracting HIV. He said in a statement today: “The simple fact is that people can’t pass on HIV when they are taking modern HIV medication and have an undetectable viral load. This is a powerful message for tackling HIV stigma.”

Croydon Health Services NHS Trust shared a list of “myth-busting HIV facts” on Twitter.

Lewisham HIV Clinic posted an interview with Lucy Wood, results coordinator at the clinic, explaining why we should not judge those diagnosed with HIV or AIDS:

ELL boroughs have some of the highest rates of HIV in the country, with Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham all above the London average.

Data: Public Health England

But HIV infections and deaths have been steadily falling across London as a whole over the past 10 years, thanks to higher condom use, more testing, increased availability of PrEP and better treatments. London also exceeds the UN targets of ‘90:90:90’, meaning 90% of people living with HIV are aware of their status. Of those people, 90% are receiving HIV medications and 90% have an undetectable viral load.

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