The Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV has been responsible for the worst pandemic of the last century, still with no vaccine or permanent cure. Over 35 million people have been killed by AIDS – the most advanced stage of HIV infection. Things have changed massively over the last four decades, and contracting HIV is no longer a death sentence. People living with the virus can live a long healthy life thanks to new treatments.
To discuss the changing landscape of HIV over the years, we talked to Marc Thompson co-founder of The Love Tank with Dr Will Nutland, a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote the health and wellbeing of underserved communities.
In our Instagram Live interview, Thompson explains just how far things have come.
“Science is amazing,” Thompson said. “Those treatments have developed hugely since they first arrived on the scene.”
Treatments used to require the combination of many different pills, many of which had side effects. Today treatments are manageable and flexible, some require just one or two pills per day. Over the last year, an injectable treatment that is administered once a month has also been approved in several countries, including the US and the UK. And people who have an undetectable viral load cannot pass on the virus to their partners. U=U – undetectable means untransmittable.
People can also access PrEP – pre-exposure prophylaxis – a drug that stops HIV infections from taking place in the first place. While scientific advancements have been revolutionary, so too has the work of activists, such as Thompson, who have tirelessly fought to improve access to these important drugs, who continue to educate people about them, and who highlight how there is still too much inequality globally.
The end of the HIV pandemic is not just about the drugs. It is also about changing people's minds and attitudes about the virus. One of the greatest challenges is fighting stigma and disinformation.
“We have really outdated ideas of what is like to acquire HIV and to live with HIV. Yes, it can be challenging, and yes there is a lot of stigma, but we can live happy healthy lives,” Thompson explained.
World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1st. The theme this year is "End inequalities. End AIDS. End pandemics"