Written by Dr Stephen Kegg, Consultant Physician and Clinical Lead for Sexual Health and HIV with contribution from Karen Buckberry, Lead Pharmacist for HIV/GUM
“We are on the eve of a significant milestone in the story of HIV/AIDS – today (1 December) it is World AIDS Day and this year marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were diagnosed in the UK.
"It is an opportunity to reflect on how much has changed in the management of people living with HIV; an individual diagnosed today is likely to live at least a normal lifespan and remain in excellent health.
"When Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ARV) was first used in 1996, the patient was required to take 16 tablets per day. Since then, HIV treatment has evolved from no effective treatment, through a "cocktail" of drugs with significant side effects, to once-daily tablet treatment, which is highly effective and very safe. Treatment is now started soon after diagnosis as we recognise that this is the best way to maintain our patients in good health.
"Furthermore, within a few weeks of starting treatment (and once an individual has achieved an undetectable HIV viral load) they are no longer infectious, even if they have unprotected sex. This goes some way to supporting people to live the fullest lives possible, and to understand that an HIV diagnosis should not limit an individual's aspirations.
"A new injectable alternative to tablet treatment has just been made available in the UK, and research is going on into a "functional cure" that might remove the need altogether for further treatment. A highly-effective tablet treatment to prevent a person acquiring infection in the first place (pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP) is also now widely available in the NHS; this along with early diagnosis and treatment signals a future with fewer people infected in the first place. It will become a preventable condition.
"All of this has only been possible because the NHS has provided excellent open-access HIV clinics, removing the need for referral. Such services have led to the UK having some of the best outcomes in the world for people living with HIV, and for this we should be proud."
For more information about HIV and AIDS, please visit the NHS website.