Sunday marked 30 years since the first reported cases of HIV in the UK.
Jessica Harding of sexual health charity Thames Valley Positive Support – which helps those affected by HIV – explains the importance of keeping up awareness three decades on
Thirty years, ‘so what?’ you might think; the number of people being diagnosed must have gone down and the stigma surrounding this virus has all but disappeared.
It appears the older this virus gets, the less we actually talk about it. Sadly, when it comes to HIV, quite the opposite is happening.
In fact in Reading the number of people newly diagnosed is still rising and the town has been flagged up by the department of health as an HIV hot spot, meaning the prevalence of HIV in Reading is higher than in many major UK cities.
As for stigma, people affected by HIV face it daily. Thames Valley Positive Support (TVPS) is the only HIV charity in Berkshire and here we see first-hand the effects of such discrimination.
We believe knowledge of this virus is the key, both to bringing down the number of people contracting HIV and to removing the stigma that seems to go all too comfortably with this virus.
So indulge me. Let’s just go through some basics. HIV is contracted only via unprotected sex; sharing unsterilised needles; from mother to baby through either childbirth (very rarely in the UK) or breast feeding; and from injection or transfusion of contaminated blood.
You can’t contract HIV by kissing, hugging, sitting on a toilet seat, sharing a pen or using the same cutlery. This is already well known by most people, but these examples are all too common misconceptions we come across regularly. TVPS has joined forces with West Berkshire Primary Care Trust to bring West Berkshire the Free Adult Condom Trust (FACT).
The scheme offers high-risk and vulnerable adults easy access to free contraception in a range of venues. We are really pleased to be involved in such an innovative project that really does give people the opportunity to be in control of their sexual health.
For more information on the scheme please visit www.freeadultcondomtrust.org.uk
Remember our key message: Spread the love, not STIs.
If you or someone you are close to has been diagnosed with HIV, please visit www.tvps.org.ukfor information about the support we offer, or call 0118 935 3730.