World AIDS Day has been marked on the 1st December every year since 1988. It is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and to mourning those who have died of the disease. HIV remains a major public health issue and in 2020, 37.7 million people globally were found to be living with HIV with a further 1.5 million new infections.
The theme of World AIDS Day 2021 is “End inequalities. End AIDS” with a special focus on reaching people left behind. The World Health Organization and its partners are highlighting the growing inequalities in access to essential HIV services.
To raise awareness, Red Ribbons will be distributed to the public on the 1st December from the Primary Care Centre and St Bernard’s Hospital.
Early detection and diagnosis are crucial. People who are diagnosed early with HIV receive effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication and will go on to have a normal life expectancy. They are also protected from passing HIV on to others because effective treatment reduces the virus in the body to an undetectable, untransmissible level. However, those who are diagnosed late may suffer from severe immunosuppression, which is associated with an 8-fold higher risk of mortality.
In Gibraltar, there are people living with HIV, including some cross-frontier workers. Fortunately, the GHA has a team focused on diagnosing, treating and caring for people living with HIV. The team includes our Visiting Consultant Specialised in HIV and our Infection Control Practitioners, working alongside our Clinical Nurse specialist in Sexual Health.
This year, the GHA’s focus is on promoting testing, prevention and treatment. AIDs is a term that applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. As more people access ART, most people living with HIV do not progress to AIDs. However, it is more likely to occur in people with HIV who have not been tested. The importance of getting tested and knowing your HIV status is paramount for early detection/early treatment and normal life expectancies. If you have been exposed, accessing the GHA’s Sexual Health service through the Well Person Unit for regular testing will provide you with the necessary tools to help prevent HIV infection, protecting yourself and your partners.
The Well Person team offer non-judgmental advice on preventative measures that people should take to avoid contracting and transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The most important message is to use condoms to protect against HIV and other infections. The team stress the importance of regular sexual health screening, including for HIV, to those who are sexually active and who have multiple partners. The HIV test is a simple blood test.
The Well Person Unit is located in the Primary Care Centre and offers confidential and anonymised testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Those wishing to book an appointment may do so by telephoning 200 07842.
Minister for Health, the Hon Samantha Sacramento, said: ‘The Well Person Unit offer an exceptional service. This World AIDS day I strongly encourage anyone concerned about their sexual health to arrange an appointment with our excellent and dedicated team. Testing is free and simple, and is vital for anyone who has been exposed or feels they may have been exposed to HIV to ensure that they continue to live normal and healthy lives.’