HIV Then and Now
By Martin Glackin, George House Trust
When the characters in ‘My Night with Reg’ hear about an HIV diagnosis they know the fate that awaits: swiftly deteriorating health, AIDS, a painful death.
In the 1980s some people who received a diagnosis of HIV were shunned by families and friends. Many chose not to talk about living with HIV, fearful of being judged and even ostracised. The gay community saw that something needed to be done and organisations such as Manchester AIDSline – founded in 1985 and later to become George House Trust – were set up to offer much needed support and advice to people living with HIV.
AZT, the first drug to treat HIV, appeared in 1987 but it was too late for many people. Early HIV drugs were often toxic and of limited benefit. It wasn’t until 1996 that ‘combination therapy’ became standard treatment – using at least 3 anti-HIV medications at once to ensure the virus doesn’t mutate and continue to replicate. Death rates dropped and life expectancies lengthened.
The medical outlook for people living with HIV today couldn’t be more different than in the 1980s. Treatment now is highly effective and side effects have greatly reduced.
People newly diagnosed with HIV today can expect to have a normal life expectancy if they are diagnosed early and are on effective treatment. 97% of people living with HIV in the UK have an undetectable viral load, meaning that the medication is so effective at stopping the virus that blood tests can’t detect it. We are now able to say that someone with an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV on. Undetectable = Untransmittable or U=U.
More people than ever are living healthy, normal lives with HIV. But, all these years later, HIV stigma is still a very real part of the lives of many people living with HIV.
Whether it be discrimination at work or when requesting a tattoo, rejection from a sexual partner or family member, stigma has a corrosive and negative impact.
We have come a very long way since the 1980s. Fantastic medical progress has been made.
We must never forget the people lost to HIV. We must also be mindful that there is still much to do and that we all have a part to play in ensuring that HIV stigma becomes a thing of the past.
Martin Glackin, George House Trust
Martin Glackin is a Service Advisor for George House Trust, working particularly with gay and bisexual men.
This article was commissioned by Green Carnation Company and published in their programme for their 2020 tour of Kevin Elyot’s ‘My Night with Reg’.
George House Trust’s vision is for all people living with HIV in the North West to live confident, healthy lives free from stigma and discrimination.
They offer 1 to 1 services including counselling and peer mentoring.
They provide a range of tailored advice including advice for people newly diagnosed, treatment and adherence advice and money, benefits and debt advice.
George House Trust has a proven track record of effectively advocating on behalf of people who have been discriminated against because of HIV status.
They run a calendar of events, courses and information sessions for people living with HIV. Their Positively Speaking programme provides HIV awareness training to a range of groups including schools, businesses and GP surgeries.
On a practical level their Welfare Fund provides household goods which help support or maintain health and wellbeing.
For people with mobility needs their volunteer driving service can help with transport to essential appointments.
If you’re living with HIV in Greater Manchester and want to find out more about their services visit www.ght.org.uk or call 0161 274 4499.