Andrew McCluskey

After the 29th World AIDS day was held on the first of December, HIV Scotland is calling for prevention to be prioritised in the fight to end new HIV infections in Scotland. For the past decade, HIV infections have remained static with one person being diagnosed every day on average.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the cells in the body that are responsible for defending against other viruses. If left untreated, this can develop into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). A person with AIDS is much less able to fight off infections and infection-related cancers. There is currently no cure for HIV, but there are ways of managing the infection.

Certain treatments can reduce the virus to undetectable levels, giving the infected individual the opportunity to live a healthy life with a normal life expectancy. The treatment also prevents the virus being spread from that individual. However, in order to utilise these treatments, one has to be aware they have HIV. HIV Scotland is calling for HIV testing to be made easier to access.

World AIDS Day is held as an “international day of remembrance for people who have died from AIDS-related illnesses, to prevent new cases of HIV and to stand in solidarity with people living with the virus”. This year, more than 50 buildings took part in “Light up Scotland”, a campaign where landmarks and buildings around Scotland are illuminated in red to show support for World AIDS Day. Edinburgh Castle, the SSE Hydro, the Kelpies and Orkney Cathedral all participated this year.

As of June 2016, 217 people were newly diagnosed with HIV. 45% of those people were diagnosed after the point when treatments should have begun, which has a significant impact on their health.

George Valiotis, the CEO of HIV Scotland said: “Ending the stigma and dispelling myths relating to HIV in Scotland is one of the vital steps in moving towards reducing new infections [...] this needs to come alongside quality sexual health education and better awareness and understanding of HIV for everyone.”

New methods to help prevent the spread of HIV will be available in the near future, such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), where one can take medication to prevent the virus from establishing a permanent infection.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS released targets in 2014 to try to deal with the static infection rate. They require: 90% of people living with HIV to know their HIV status, 90% of people who know they are HIV-Positive status are undergoing treatment and 90% of people on treatment to have a suppressed viral load.

Suppressed viral load indicates the levels of the virus are too low in a person to be transmitted to another person.

Scotland is currently meeting the latter two guidelines, with 94% of people in Scotland with HIV undergoing treatment and 95% of those having a suppressed viral load. However, only around 83% of people living with HIV in Scotland have been diagnosed. HIV Scotland believes that Scotland can meet this target by improving access to testing and increasing awareness of HIV.

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