It has been some time since my last posting here and there are a couple of reasons for that that I finally take the time to put down in writing.
It is not that I have lost interest, or that HIV is no longer a public and global health issue. But for a start, I have a full-time time job. Actually, I seem to have more than one, covering for a never-ending shortage of staff. And so, in the last 18 months work has taken over my life, leaving me little time to do other than trying to recover in what spare time remains.
Then and most importantly, the HIV prevention and advocacy fields have gone through tectonic changes since October 2015.
A new breed of activism has been born out of PrEP and has grown and keeps growing on the back of this revolutionary HIV prevention biomedical intervention. This new generation started with very little (I Want Prep Now and Prepster) but unfettered by institutionalisation has turned the field upside down (hopefully they will resist it, I am watching you!).
Further, in the face of evidence, and a grassroots push for a different approach to HIV prevention, leading HIV prevention charities have reconnected with their base and joined a fight for which they were initially unprepared. Altogether, the paradigm shifted, it’s no longer just about condoms and test and treat.
The battle against HIV is far from being over. The DoH refusal to make Truvada available on the NHS remains unacceptable and public health policies continue to ignore and let down a sizeable portion of the population. Infections that should be averted, still occur. Nevertheless, we are in a much better place.
In that regards, the commitment of clinicians, nurses and GUM clinics has been exemplary and the reduction in the number of HIV infections observed since January 2016 is also their success.
Looking back at the early days of PrEP – that would be as far back as 2008 for me, we have gone a long way, but we are not there yet, and we should not become complacent. We still need to push for better, broader access to PrEP on the NHS (not forgetting other prevention tools); we need more than ever to protect free and accessible sexual health services; we need to continue encouraging regular testing and appropriate care for those with HIV and of course we still have to fight for LGBT+ rights (worldwide) and tackle “new” issues, especially when they are identified within our communities, such as racism.
We can all contribute to ending the HIV epidemics. We can do it as activists, as health professionals, as individuals, as social groups, as public bodies, as politicians, as friends, as family, as lover and in many more roles. We don’t need hard numbers, fancy targets, technocratic buzzwords or gimmicky slogans. The changes we have seen in the last two years didn’t arose from any of these. We only need to work together, challenge the status quo, have passion and now and then just say “I want it”.
Today as the CROI conference is underway, I miss interacting with the many people I have met in my early days as a prevention advocate and I hope to be back into the worlds and communities of HIV prevention at some point. In the meantime, thank you all, and keep fighting!