Words by Matthew Hodson | @Matthew_Hodson 

This was a good year.

For the first time since this epidemic first hit us, there was no difference in life expectancy between those of us living with HIV in the UK and on treatment and those who are uninfected.

Let that sink in.

Consider that just 21 years ago there was no effective treatment and an HIV diagnosis was still considered a death sentence. Now we have achieved the goal of treating HIV so effectively that, if you are diagnosed promptly your chances of survival are as good as those of people who remain negative. Having lived through those years of loss and grief, this news alone makes me weak with happiness.

Not only are we succeeding in treating HIV but we are also succeeding in preventing it. HIV diagnoses across the UK fell by 18% in 2016. Combination prevention (condoms plus PrEP plus testing and treatment) works. Indicators suggest that the drops may be even steeper in 2017.

This reduction in diagnoses was most evident among gay men, particularly among those who live in London. For the first time since they opened their doors, 56 Dean St had a month when the number of new diagnoses didn’t even hit double figures.

A new study published this year, which looked exclusively at sero-discordant/sero-different (one HIV-positive partner and one HIV-negative partner) gay couples found that not a single person acquired HIV from a partner who was undetectable on HIV treatment.

The undetectable = untransmissible message started to be heard. With improved life-expectancy and armed with the knowledge that when treated we can’t pass the virus to our sexual partners we have new, better tools to challenge HIV stigma.

The progress we have made is not irreversible. The challenges ahead remain daunting.

Closures of sexual health clinics threaten our successes in diagnosing and treating HIV. Funding cuts continue to take their toll on services that support people living with HIV. We still do not have PrEP routinely available to all those at risk of HIV infection and prevention services are critically underfunded. If we don’t do something now to ensure sexual health services are resourced we will not maintain this momentum.

But in 2017, as we mark World AIDS Day, we have more to celebrate than we have to lament. 2017 was a good year for HIV but let’s not rest until we have met the most ambitious goals: No new HIV infections, no AIDS related deaths, no HIV stigma – not just for gay men in the UK but for all people, everywhere in the world.

This is not the time for us to falter or hesitate in the fight against AIDS – this is the time for us to conquer HIV.  

Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) is the Executive Director of NAM aidsmap. This article is Matthew’s own opinion and not necessarily the view of NAM as an organisation.