By Matthew Hodson | @matthew_hodson

With improvements in treatment, we have already pretty much entered (in the UK, at least) a post-AIDS era. However many of the challenges of HIV infection remain. Each year the number of gay and bisexual men being newly diagnosed with HIV creeps up.

There’s always a buzz of stories about radical new HIV cures and vaccines (too late for me and the other 110,000 living with HIV, but still welcome) but then there’s also a long history of disappointments here. Even if they do work, it will be several years before they become available. 

We still lag way behind our targets in terms of diagnosing all of those who are living with HIV. People are still being diagnosed late, which increases their risk of death ten-fold. The high numbers of people living with undiagnosed HIV also plays a massive role in the number of new infections we see, as people who are unaware of their HIV status and are not on treatment are much more infectious than those of us who are diagnosed and have become undetectable.

The stigma that people with HIV routinely face discourages many from testing and others from being open about their HIV status. And the mental and emotional challenges that too many gay men face, sometimes the cause and sometimes the consequence of drug use, help to perpetuate the behaviours that lead to ongoing infections.

We are still so far from where we need to be in terms of beating this disease that it might seem odd that I’m optimistic. But, in spite of these huge challenges that we still face, I am hopeful. You’ve got to have hope, right?

I’m hopeful because we now have all the tools that we need to halt this epidemic.

If we can educate about undetectable viral load, so that both HIV-positive and negative men truly understand its impact on infection risk, then we can counter the fear that leads to people living with HIV being so often feared, rejected and shunned. If we can obliterate HIV-related stigma we can increase testing.

We need to embrace the benefits, in terms of both an individual’s health and the impact on transmission risk, of treatment at point of diagnosis. And we need to make use of all the prevention technologies available to us, including PrEP, so that men who, for whatever reason, are not able to maintain condom use can still protect themselves.

I look forward to the day when we hit zero new HIV infections. I look forward to the day when we mark World AIDS Day by honouring those we lost, who were not able to benefit from the life-saving treatment we now have. We’re not there yet. As a community, we need to lobby for tailored HIV prevention work and access to PrEP. As individuals, we need to treat each other with respect, whatever our sexual preferences or HIV status. We need to love ourselves enough to believe that we deserve to live long and healthy lives.

All of this is do-able. We could move from a post-AIDS era to a post-HIV era within a decade. It will require commitment and investment but the prize is so great, we cannot let the opportunity slip away.

Matthew Hodson is the Executive Director of NAM