By Professor Sarah J Fidler, Professor of HIV and Communicable Diseases at Imperial College London
There has been the most dramatic improvement in the treatment and care now available for people living with HIV; a result of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART). This represents a huge success in terms of life expectancy as well as reducing the risk of passing virus infection from an HIV-positive person to their partners or children. In fact, if people start on ART when they first test HIV-positive and remain on treatment so that the level of virus in their blood tests remains below the limit of detection; “undetectable” they can expect to live a normal healthy life and not risk passing the virus on to their partners or children.
However, despite these advances, the number of new HIV infections per year continues, with around 2 million new infections globally and several thousand new cases of HIV in the UK every year.
Why does this continue to happen and what can we do to prevent it? Whilst it may seem very logical to test and take treatment to people not living with or affected by HIV, the continuing stigma, myths and judgements around HIV persist, to the extent that people are afraid to test, afraid to access care afraid to live openly with HIV and without testing and accessing care and treatment will continue to become sick and pass virus onto their partners.
We cant stop now! We need to work closely with the community of people living with HIV to remove stigma, encourage testing and re-testing for all, and for those people living with HIV we need to extend open free access to all aspects of health care to keep them and their family and loved ones healthy and without the risk of passing on infection.