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

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood