Whilst still a topic that reams of people won’t discuss, HIV is undeniably a huge problem here in the UK. According to the National AIDS trust, there are over 90,000 people living with the disease, 22,000 of whom are yet to be diagnosed. In 2011, 40,000 of these infected people were gay men – but only 31,000 were receiving treatment.
Men aged between 35-44 held the highest percentage for infection, whilst England accounted for 91% of infection rates in the UK; London topped the list at 46%. In 2002, there were around 14,000 gay men living with the disease, a figure which has nearly trebled in a decade. Whilst the death rate in our advanced country averages at less than 1%, it’s no secret that HIV is an albeit treatable, but ultimately incurable disease, and is only prolonged to lessen the time spent with the cruel and fatal AIDS.
Leaving the daunting statistics behind, it’s safe to say that this is a gay lottery you really don’t want to ‘win’. You might be thinking that 90,000 people is a tiny a percentage of the whole UK population – but if all the victims of HIV were put in one place, it would be larger than Watford. Hard pill to swallow. Being so low a number, you might think you’ll never come across another person who has HIV and perhaps you won’t. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You don’t meet the starving children half way across the world or innocent families torn apart by war, but does that mean it’s not happening?
An old friend from home recently told me about her colleague’s messy break up, endless rebounds, lackadaisical attitudes to safe sex and eventual diagnosis of the infection. The alienation that comes alongside the infection is heartbreaking. Even that word “infection” is upsetting and alienating. Whilst accurate and technical, I can’t help but think it’s an unjust word to describe the situation. Think back to when you last had a cold and people avoided you for fear of catching it. How they treated you like a zombie, almost a threat because of the bacteria inside of you. Now put yourself in the shoes of an HIV sufferer. I can imagine the reaction would be ten times worse. With so much press on STIs, illnesses and infections, the taboo has been lifted, but there is still an unspoken fear and judgment that people revel in. They are quick to ruthlessly judge others who live a different life to them and, as if being gay wasn’t enough, these people are harbouring a contagious, life threatening illness. It shouldn’t matter to you though – they are still people too.
There are too many rumours about the contagion levels of HIV and it’s something which needs clearing up. The virus is transmitted through blood and mucous membranes. You cannot catch HIV through kissing somebody and oral sex is not an efficient route for the infection to spread through, but there is still potential. Unprotected sex (anal or vaginal) accounts for the majority of transmissions in most countries, whilst the sharing of used needles has a minor impact on statistics too, especially in countries where health care is less developed. Blood transmissions through open wounds and sores are also dangerous and often ignored, swept aside for a focus on sex. Now that you’re a little more up to speed, don’t patronise someone with HIV by refusing them human contact or asking silly questions about toilet seats. They might be suffering but you’re the moron who knows next to nothing about their plight.
We’ve all made mistakes like kissing that boy we shouldn’t have, or over thinking an innocent situation, but can you imagine living with something like this for the rest of your life? An eternal reminder of one silly mistake for which paying the price is signing away your life. Get tested and be aware. You owe it to your partner (or hook up) to be clean and responsible. Too many people think they’re immune to things like this, that the risk is comparatively small. Tell that to the 90,000 sufferers and then ask yourself – “is this one night really worth a terminal illness?” No, I didn’t think so either. Play safe.
For more information please consult the Terrence Higgins Trust: www.tht.org.uk