In the US and the UK gay men make up the majority of new HIV infections. There are now more than half a million gay men living with HIV in the US and about 50,000 in the UK. In most Western countries we have seen significant increases in new HIV diagnoses among gay and bi men. Huge numbers of gay men remain undiagnosed, meaning that they cannot benefit from treatment and remain highly infectious to their sexual partners. The reality of living with HIV today has changed considerably since World AIDS Day started, way back in 1988. HIV is now a manageable condition, but if you ask pretty much anyone living with the virus they will tell you they'd rather not have it. In recent years media coverage of the day seems to have weakened, but the need to prevent new infections, dispel ignorance and challenge HIV stigma is as urgent as ever. This year let's make World AIDS Day count by doing the following actions.
1. Know your own status
If you haven't tested for a year or longer, put a date in the diary to test now. You may think that you haven't taken any real risks but condoms can fail – so can monogamous relationships, and oral sex isn't entirely without risk. Even if you're pretty confident that the result is going to be negative, it's still better to know for certain. And make a plan to test every year from now on. If you think you need a nudge, you can sign up for an annual email reminder from GMFA.
2. Talk about HIV
It used to be that HIV figured prominently in the conversations that gay men had with each other. With fewer people dying, and fewer people showing symptoms of HIV, those conversations are now less frequent. On World AIDS Day, take the time to discuss HIV with your friends: what do they do to protect themselves or their partners? Do they disclose their status to their partners before sex? What do they do if someone tells them that they're HIV positive? If more gay men talk about HIV, it's likely that we can think about it more clearly, dispel any myths or misconceptions, gather information if necessary, and reaffirm the reasons why we don't want to be involved in transmission of HIV (either catching it if we are uninfected or passing it on if we are living with HIV).
3. Support a charity
Everyone knows that these are tough times economically. Many HIV and health charities are struggling, with government cuts and lower levels of donations. GMFA's website currently receives no local or national Government funding. We are dependent on the generosity of the gay community, and those who value our communities, to keep this site going. We're not alone in this struggle. Around World AIDS Day there will be lots of charities giving it a big fundraising push. All of them are worthy causes and all of them need your support. If you value the services that GMFA provide we hope that you will consider making a donation to GMFA so that we can continue to give hundreds of thousands of gay men across the UK and around the world the frank, honest information about gay sex, sexual health and HIV prevention that we are known for.
4. Wear a red ribbon
Wearing a red ribbon or putting one on your profile isn't just about going with the flow. A red ribbon gives you the opportunity to show you care about HIV, whether you are living with the virus or not. Take the opportunity to talk to anyone who comments on it about testing and treatment, about safer sex and staying in control. Encourage them to think about the sex that they have, the risks that they take and the impact of their attitudes. Remember the lives that have been lost and the people whose health will suffer in the future if we ignore the problem. Think about what we can all do to help others and reduce HIV-related stigma. That's what wearing the ribbon is all about.