This year we have seen two fantastic films that have portrayed the fight, pain, love, suffering, and campaigns of the families and friends of people living with HIV. ‘120 battements par minute’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ both portrayed lives cut short by a disease that decimated the LGBTIQA+ community in the 1980s.
‘120 BPM’ focused on the advocacy and protest group ACT UP Paris, who campaigned for sex workers, intravenous drug users, those who received contaminated blood transfusions, and the LGBTIQA+ community. ACT UP aimed to educate, and where that failed, they used radical, nonviolent protest to ensure the focus of the media was on the truth and the lack of action being taken by governmental institutions. It is also a love story, and like Romeo and Juliet, you know from the start that these lovers are doomed.
Bohemian Rhapsody charts the rise, fall, and rise again of the UK rock band Queen. The film so sensitively deals with Freddie Mercury’s HIV diagnosis. I went to see this film with a friend. Both of us are HIV+. I remember reaching out and just holding his hand throughout this part, tears welling in our eyes as we both remembered back to our own diagnosis. Solitary waiting rooms, scruffy posters, a consultant who seemed so far removed from the human element of their job, and then being sent out with just a pamphlet for support and information.
I was diagnosed in January 2013. I’d been for a check-up over the Christmas period whilst visiting family in the midlands. I remember being in the living room of my friends in Balham. We’d spent the day baking bread and watching Sex and the City. The insistence of the nurse over the phone not to have sex with anyone made me realise just how serious it was. She could not tell me over the phone, though I knew it had to be HIV. I remember having the flu like symptoms of seroconversion. HIV awareness and activism was part of the platform that has lead to my recent election as Young Greens Co-Chair.
A lot has changed since the 80s and 90s. People no longer need die of AIDs, HIV medication can suppress the virus to undetectable and untransmittable levels, and medication exists that can protect people from HIV infection: Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, also known as PEP. However, the stigma remains: from members of the public who have not had the opportunity to be educated around these changes, and from the government who refuse to ensure education and properly funded preventative treatment is available.
PEP has been used by health professionals as a treatment to block HIV infection since 1988. Yet it wasn’t until 2004 that PEP was being advertised to people who were at risk of HIV outside of the health professional environment. As recently as 2016, PrEP has been reported to reduce the risk of new HIV infections by up to 100%. To put that into perspective, condoms in real life settings are about 85% effective. The UK government is still refusing to offer PrEP on the NHS. Instead it has extended the PrEP impact trail. This means that people who don’t live in any of the 11 cities covered by this trial are still at risk of HIV infection.
Last year I had the fantastic opportunity to attend Positively UK’s 30th anniversary conference “HIV: Then, Now, and in the Future”, where I learnt about the global aim of 90/90/90 by 2020. By 2020 we want to have 90% of all people living with HIV to be diagnosed, 90% of all diagnosed people to be on medication, and 90% of those diagnosed to have their HIV suppressed to untransmittable levels. We will end the global HIV/AIDs epidemic, but only with the political will to do so. It was great to read this week that the UK has achieved these targets, despite NHS England’s reluctance to roll-out PrEP. The Green Party would oversee PrEP available on prescription on the NHS. They would fight to end HIV stigma through compulsory sexual education in schools as well as public awareness campaigns.
This World Aids Day I’d like to see a renewal of our campaigns for equal access to HIV prevention, treatment, and education. A move towards ending the stigma around HIV testing as we’ve seen Prince Harry champion. Stigma that has seen the far-right Italian government spreading misinformation about clothing being a HIV transmission risk. Stigma that has seen people slut-shaming those who choose to protect themselves by taking PrEP. I want to remember those whose lives were robbed by government inaction and HIV/AIDS. Finally I’d like to thank Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP for bravely disclosing his HIV status in the House of Commons. I hope warmth that has been shown to him will support and encourage others living with HIV to know that they are not alone.