A Bristol HIV & AIDS charity is holding a free celebratory event at the Watershed on Saturday from 6 to 8pm to mark the 30th anniversary of World Aids Day
Starting with a procession through the city at 5pm from College Green, the Brigstowe Project wants to raise awareness and funds to support the 1000+ people living with HIV in Bristol.
With heterosexual transmissions on the rise in the South West due to condomless sex, the work of Brigstowe is targeted on all sexualities and genders.
The condition is now commonly seen as a treatable disease with normal life expectancy due to advances in retroviral drugs.
The event will be a culmination of a week of WAD events organised by Bristol Drugs Project, Terence Higgins Trust, Unity Sexual Health, Bristol Sex Worker Project, Bristol Bear Bar, The Diversity Trust, UWE Bristol LGBT+ society, Unison, BCFM radio and the University of Bristol.
Bonny Holt, a direct support co-ordinator from Terence Higgins Trust in Bristol spoke to Bower News this morning ahead of a special service at The Lord Mayor’s Chapel
Why is World Aids Day so important?
”It gives us a chance to remember all the people that we’ve loved and lost. We started over 30 years ago as the Alled Richards Trust, and in the year 2000 we merged with THT. I think its really important to remember the past – I lost friends a long time ago. Things have changed so much with medication, and its so more advanced, we’re not seeing that loss now but I think its important that we remember where we came from”
A 2014 report says that the number of diagnoses in Bristol has risen – what’s the reason for this do you think?
”People don’t think about HIV any more. They think its gone, they don’t believe they know anyone with HIV and of course HIV is still here.”
”Every year between 5000 and 6000 people are diagnosed in the UK. You can live for up to 7 years and not know anything about it. The longer that you live with HIV and not know, the more the virus is in your body and the easier it is to transmit the virus to somebody else usually through unprotected sex; sometimes from mother to baby or by sharing needles. So a lot of people just aren’t thinking about HIV – they think it only effects gay men or third world countries.”
What assumptions are being challenged by the evidence?
”They don’t think HIV affects women particularly. I’m seeing a lot more women in their 50’s now with HIV”
How can that be the case?
”Because they’re coming out of long term relationships, have gone through the menopause and are going into new relationships and are not thinking about safe sex.”
What single thing would make the situation in Bristol better?
”I think more people need to come in and get tested – there’a rise in sexually transmitted diseases all across the country. Once you know you’re HIV positive you can go onto effective treatment which lowers the viral load to hopefully undetectable which means you’re still HIV positive, but now with the partner study which went on for 2 years, it’s been proven that you cannot transmit HIV through unprotected sex – which is incredible, which is something 25 years ago I never thought would happen…”
What’s changed in the last 30 years?
”When I first got involved I was supporting people to their death – I was helping them with their funeral plans. Whereas now I’m supporting people through diagnosis which is a huge shock for people, helping them to build their self confidence to get on with their lives.”