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1 December 2021

The world risks repeating the mistakes of HIV/Aids with Covid-19

98 per cent of people living with HIV in the UK are on an effective course of treatment. But elsewhere, people who would be able to live with the virus die of HIV-related illnesses.

By Stephen Bush

Today, 1 December, is World Aids Day. It is four decades since the first reported cases of HIV-related illnesses and deaths – and here in the UK, 98 per cent of the estimated 105,200 people living with HIV are on an effective course of treatment, and 97 per cent cannot pass the illness on.

There is still incredible stigma and ignorance about HIV and Aids in this country. According to the National Aids Trust’s survey, nearly one in five Brits think you can get HIV by kissing and only a third of people say they have sympathy for people living with HIV, which is why you should wear a red ribbon today. But it is no longer a death sentence in the UK. (Find your local free test on the NHS website, folks!)

But in other parts of the world, inadequate access to life-saving treatments mean that people who would be able to live with the virus here die of HIV-related illnesses. That’s the trajectory that Covid-19 had appeared to be on: the novel coronavirus has been deadlier in 2021 than it was in 2020 in most of the world. The difference, of course, is that Covid-19’s capacity to mutate means that global access to Covid-19 vaccines is a question of self-interest for the West as well as an ethical imperative.

The British government’s short-term measures to manage the risks of Omicron – boosters for over-18s, a strengthened mask mandate and tighter self-isolation rules – are all sensible steps. But the only way to free everyone from the spectre of further lockdowns is a global vaccination effort to match the ambition we’ve shown in banishing smallpox and all but eradicating polio from the world.

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