Local HIV charity LASS will, on 9 June, launch its 25th Anniversary Year with a Grand Anniversary Boat Race at 11am in the Humberstone Gate area of Leicester, encouraging people to see HIV in a new light, free of prejudice, fear and stigma.
LASS was formed in 1987 as a telephone helpline for the people of Leicester, Leicestershire andRutland, at a time when it was almost impossible to find premises because of fear and stigma. 25 years later LASS supports over 500 people affected by HIV, runs a community rapid HIV testing service and works across communities to increase understanding and knowledge about HIV.
Jenny Hand, CEO of LASS, explains:
“With early diagnosis via a simple, un-intrusive test it’s possible nowadays to live a long, healthy and active life in theUKwith HIV. It’s not doom and gloom, HIV is a sexually transmitted infection, like all the others, that people can protect themselves and others from. We are launching internationally decorated boats in a race that will reflect the fact that no matter what part of the world or which community you are from, HIV can affect you so shouldn’t be ignored. All together the boats will have 25 crew members, one for each year of our work. We want to create an atmosphere of hope in living life to the full and invite everyone to come along and mark this milestone with us as we start to look to the future.”
In 1987 the government was warning people about HIV with tombstones labelled “AIDS, don’t die of ignorance”. Whilst a positive diagnosis today can have a significant impact on a person’s life, things have moved on as medication, knowledge and health care have advanced, but the terrifying legacy of this public information campaign remains and is a barrier to better public sexual health as people are reluctant to act because of fear. Jenny Hand comments:
“Only last week we heard that sexually transmitted infections among theUK’s young are rocketing. This is a serious concern as it reflects the possibility of increases in HIV infection rates, which can, without a simple test, remain hidden for up to 10 years, having a negative impact on the body. Continuing to get the message across about the need to not shy away from the issue, to protect yourself and get tested early so you can put your mind at rest and look after yourself is a major challenge for LASS as we move forward, along with working with older people who have been living for many years with HIV. But we have never stood still and will respond to whatever lies ahead.”
In conclusion, Patrick Bowe, Chair of the LASS Board of Trustees, comments:
“In May LASS announced its new International Patron, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. In joining LASS the Archbishop commented that he ‘admired LASS’s guts’. It is with this bravery and determination, of our service users, staff and volunteers that we look with hope to the future and continuing to make a difference in the work we do.”