Monday December 1st is World AIDS Day, an awareness, fundraising and remembrance event organised by the National AIDS Trust.

The Centre for Disease Control estimates that 39 million people with AIDS have died since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began, and a further 35 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2013. More people have been infected by the human immunodeficiency virus than currently populate the UK, a harrowing statistic. World AIDS Day aims to remember those who have died in the epidemic, to show support for those current living with HIV, and to raise awareness in order to reduce the spread of the disease, as well as stigma and discrimination against affected individuals.

Across the country on December 1st, informative and commemorative events will be held by NHS Trusts, churches, academic institutions and voluntary groups, including fun runs, lectures on the latest medical advances within the field, HIV testing, and films being shown. This complements events held between the 22nd and 30th of November, National HIV Testing Week, in which higher risk populations, including men who have sex with men and African people, were encouraged to get tested for the virus.

World AIDS Day is celebrated on the 1st of December across the UK, with many events including fun runs and information sessions // Credit: Christian Heldt (Wikimedia Commons)
World AIDS Day is celebrated on the 1st of December across the UK, with many events including fun runs and information sessions // Credit: Christian Heldt (Wikimedia Commons)

On campus, students will be outside Escape with red ribbons, symbolising universal awareness and support for those living with HIV, and information to increase UWE students’ awareness of HIV transmission and disease burden. Kevin Wilson, who has organised the event, said “HIV affects us all, directly or indirectly, and every year we remember those that have fallen by the wayside, celebrating their achievements in their lives. This will give us scope to accept and address those that are living with the virus, moreover enabling society to be aware of and eradicate elements of stigma and discrimination.”

“I’m really proud to be involved in World AIDS Day,” UWESU Welfare Officer Will Anderson said. “It’s a very important issue and I hope that we can educate and inform other students about the impact HIV/AIDS can have in our lives, and the importance of getting tested.”

HIV infects the T cells of the body’s immune system, preventing it from fighting infections that would not normally present much of a challenge. Once individuals have developed one or more of these infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and candidiasis, or even cancers including cervical cancer and lymphoma, and have been confirmed as HIV positive, they are considered to have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the final stage of HIV infection. It is these opportunistic infections and cancers that HIV positive individuals die of, as opposed to the infection itself.

However, individuals diagnosed with and treated for HIV now may not ever develop AIDS as antiretroviral drugs, which prevent the virus from replicating in human cells, are available as routine treatment, and recent developments include prophylactic and post-exposure drugs which can prevent transmission of the virus from unprotected sex, the major route of transmission for HIV. There is always a risk of resistance to these drugs developing, rendering their use redundant, so safe practices include the use of condoms and not sharing needles or other drug-injecting equipment.

Despite our advances, there are more people living with HIV than ever, a quarter of those unaware that they have been infected, and there is still no vaccine and no cure. World AIDS Day provides the opportunity to find out more about HIV/AIDS, to recognise the scale of the epidemic, and to remember those who have died from one of the most devastating diseases of the 21st century.

To find out more, drop by Escape bar on Frenchay campus on Monday 1st December 2014, or visit World Aids Day website. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to HIV, it is important that you make an appointment with your GP or local sexual health clinic, which you can search for here.

By Sophie Evans.