December 1st is the Day we remember the people living with HIV and AIDS.
Today we remember those who have died, and salute those who have fought this disease to make the World a better place for all our communities.
Tower Hamlets is known to have a particularly high rate of HIV infection. That’s because we are such a diverse borough. There are large numbers of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. And there are many families with immigrant connections to Africa. And of course cross-over between the two. Both groups are “high risk communities”. But it’s a disease that can strike almost anyone – by a blood transfusion, or an infected needle or even just sex between man and woman – so no one should be forgotten.
It is thirty-five years since AIDS first emerged in the early ‘Eighties as a disease among gay men in California, and we have made huge strides forward in our understanding, treatment and compassion.
Treatment now exists that means a positive test is no longer a death sentence, at least not here in the West where the drugs are available.
Testing for HIV is now a no fuss business with a quick, clear answer. And an early diagnosis means a much better chance of finding a drug combination that stops the disease advancing to full AIDS.
But there is still more to be done.
The NHS is still not willing to support the drugs for HIV negative people which give almost complete protection from infection – known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP – which would save many people from becoming infected (and save millions of pounds by not having to pay for their long-term care!).
It took until 2015 before there was a Parliamentary candidate willing to come out as HIV positive – when Adrien Hyyrylainen-Trett stood for the Liberal Democrats in Vauxhall – and the community is still marginalised and under-represented, which just makes things worse in the post-referendum era when they are a target for abuse and hate-crimes.
Liberal Democrats support PrEP on the NHS to make people’s live safer and will put pressure on the council to keep up support for local testing and health clinics.
And all those who live, or die, with HIV, we will remember.