I just wanted to personally thank everyone who has supported and worked to deliver the incredible community response to the first ever National HIV Testing Week and World AIDS Day event we have just experienced. I have been encouraged, motivated and deeply moved by the concerted effort we have just made.

I was first affected by HIV and AIDS in the mid-80s when as a closeted young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality, the pandemic first rose up in the national consciousness. My friends at school were blaming gay men claiming that we had ‘started it’ and I can remember speakers on television commenting that the new threat meant that we should recriminalize homosexuality. At 14 or 15 HIV and AIDS were already defining and shaping who I was and how I felt about myself, my sexuality and the world around me.

Throughout the eighties and nineties I watched as acquaintances, friends and finally loved ones were taken from me by the virus. I have always been an armchair activist on the subject so when I contracted the virus myself and opportunities arose it was no decision at all to that I should join the fight directly and work for Yorkshire MESMAC whose positive and supportive presence on the Leeds Gay scene had a kind of mythic status in my mind.

Back in 2009, newly in post I attended my first national conference on HIV prevention. I listened carefully to the debates and conversations which occurred amongst experienced HIV prevention workers. At that time there was a great deal of frustration that whatever was being done to stem the damage done in our community by HIV and AIDS, the virus just seemed to march on regardless. Medication had arrived and was saving lives but transmission rates were proving to be stubbornly consistent and many seemed to consider them a fact of life.

Four years on and I don’t get that impression any more, a lot has changed and I have changed. I see light, finally, at the end of this dark tunnel which has surrounded our community for too long. We know now that existing HIV medications can not only provide a personal solution for the individual infected, but for the pandemic itself.

So when HIV Prevention England announced that the first National HIV Testing Week would proceed World AIDS Day this year I asked Mat from Odyssey, James and Sordid at the New Union, Jo and Katy at The Rainbow, Tom and Ross at Gay Wakefield and my friends, volunteers and fellow WaGG members to help set up a week of events in Wakefield designed to help effect the change in culture around HIV testing that is necessary if we are to finally defeat HIV and AIDS.

The process we all went through did not run smoothly and the week itself was not perfect. We will certainly do things differently next year. It was a learning experience. But what I cannot fault is the commitment, passion and effort put in by all. I really don’t think we could have given any more of ourselves guys, and I thank you for that. What is certainly true is that more gay men in Wakefield tested for HIV in one week with Yorkshire MESMAC, than have ever tested before. We will have to wait and see what the final count is, but it WILL represent a significant step forward.

But that, as they say, is all history. What is important now is that this is not the World AIDS Day where we hand up our red ribbons, our sword and shield and forget about the fight for another year. Recent research has shown that the 25% of HIV positive people who remain undiagnosed are the source of over 80% of onward transmissions:

Some of them have been recently infected themselves and carry very high viral loads rendering them highly infectious. We must create a culture where gay men test much more regularly, once a month for the most at risk.

And some of them will be amongst those with the highest levels of resistance to testing. The ‘I’ve never tested; I’d rather not know’ people. We as a community need to keep talking about HIV testing and identify who these people are, work to reassure them that they will be supported and address their worries and concerns in a positive way. Is one of them your colleague, friend or family? Could you be the one to save their life?

If we can work together there is no reason why Wakefield can’t be the first community in Britain where everyone has been tested, everyone knows their status, and every HIV positive person is getting the medical help they need. If we can do that then the year may not be long in coming when no one has to sit in a room and hear the gut wrenching, spirit crushing news from a stranger that they are HIV positive.

Thanks again

Love

Mark

Categories: News

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