HIV is for life, not just World Aids Day

An HIV and health activist explains why he won't be wearing a red ribbon today.

It's that time of year again. In the past week I've been asked to flash my red pants for Aids awareness (I don't wear any); buy a fundraising red ribbon cupcake (I bake my own); and take part in a world-record-breaking HIV testing event in Soho (I had a test last month).

I'll put bets on who will have the glitziest red ribbon brooch on X Factor on Saturday (Gary); I'll guarantee (once again) that every well-meaning HIV exhibition where I work and study won't show images of gay men (apart from the stock holding-hands-taken-from-behind photo); and it'll be a sure-fire thing that a celebratory C-lister (probably white; probably straight; probably a woman) with a new single to sell will be the voice of HIV -- but just for today...

Please excuse my cynicism: it's World Aids Day again.

Despite the good news stories -- and, for once in the 30-year history of HIV, there are many -- once the red ribbons are packed away for another year (and there will be many more years), it will be business as usual. Business as usual for the millions of people throughout the world without access to HIV treatments; business as usual for the millions of people with no access to ways of preventing HIV or being tested for it; business as usual for the people with HIV, or at risk of acquiring it, who will continue to face stigma and discrimination; and business as usual for the millions of activists, educators, health workers and policy-makers around the world -- many of whom are living with HIV themselves -- for whom every day is "world Aids day".

Behind the fundraising events, the cake bake-offs and the world-record attempts lies the reality of many people with HIV or at risk of it. Despite the astonishing break-through in "new science" in the past two years, international funding for HIV treatment and prevention looks set to plummet as the Global Fund cuts funding for life-saving HIV treatment across Africa.

In the UK, new research from Sigma Research shows that Africans living with HIV face isolation and rely heavily on professional support services: the very health and social-care services that are at the forefront of cutbacks and budget constraints.

And data released this week from the Health Protection Agency shows that HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men in the UK are at the highest levels ever. Although some of the increase can be ascribed to recent drives to promote HIV testing (another of those good news stories), these data follow several years of cuts in local NHS funding to HIV prevention programmes for gay men. Last year the pan-London HIV prevention programme for gay men saw cuts of 20 per cent.

So, once again this year I won't be wearing a red ribbon (and I acknowledge that for many other they serve as a symbol of remembrance), flashing my undies nor marking World Aids Day. Instead, I'll be joining the millions of others around the world who research, lobby, campaign and educate around HIV. It'll be a day like any other day: business as usual.

Will Nutland is a doctoral student researching the acceptability of pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis among gay men in London. He used to be head of health promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust

GETTY
Show Hide image

Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue