WATCH: Thursday BBC1 at 9pm
HIV has claimed around 35 million lives worldwide. But now, as Dr Chris van Tulleken reveals, cutting-edge science can keep the virus at bay or even prevent infection altogether. As a new preventative treatment called PrEP is rolled out on the NHS in Scotland, and new trials are announced in England and Wales, HIV is under control, in Britain at least, but only when it can be detected and the treatment with antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can begin.
Chris meets a woman whose husband died without ever knowing he had the condition, by which time he had infected her too. But Chris also finds out how ‘viral loads’ can now be reduced to allow patients to lead healthy lives – and even prevent them infecting anyone else.
Chris meets HRH Prince Harry for an interview at the Mildmay Hospital, an HIV hospital made famous by Diana, Princess of Wales, where Chris also meets a patient whose undetected HIV led to serious brain damage.
Prince Harry visited LASS in March this year, during his visit he took time to reflect on the changes for people living with HIV and unveiled a plaque marking the start of LASS’s 30th year. He was able to look at the history of LASS and viewed the panels that were launched by Princess Diana when she visited LASS in 1991.
Partner organisations joined LASS in a training session led by Juliet Kisob and Sadiya Mohamed. They looked at the role of community HIV testing in encouraging people to know their HIV status and to help reduce late diagnosis. They were joined by Prince Harry for workshops where they used a case study to look at how critical partnerships are to breaking down stigma and to identify new places for LASS to test in our 30th year. In Leicester 59% of patients are diagnosed late, which is 20% higher than the national average.
In the BBC documentary, airing on Thursday evening, Dr van Tulleken visits a clinic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where tens of thousands are still dying with seven out of ten of people infected worldwide living in sub-Saharan Africa,
He meets an schoolgirl living with HIV and realises that local attitudes to testing are still leading to unnecessary deaths. But Chris also meets clinicians taking mass testing out to the villages and meets a man whose life was saved as a result.
Back in the UK, talk of a cure may be premature, but Chris finds out more about the controversy around the rollout of PrEP which, when taken daily, can prevent someone becoming infected in the first place.
Why Take a HIV Test?
Some people think taking a HIV testing is scary, but honestly it shouldn’t be. The condition is entirely manageable. If you test positive, early detection, monitoring and effective treatment means that your life can largely carry on as before.
Incredible medical progress has been made in the last 20 years and HIV treatment is now very effective. If you are diagnosed with HIV before it has damaged your body and you are put on effective treatment, you can expect to live as long as anyone else.
HIV treatment aims to lower the amount of HIV in the body to undetectable levels. Global research, known as the PARTNER study, has found that HIV cannot be passed on when the virus is undetectable. In other words, if someone is on effective HIV treatment, it is extremely unlikely that he or she will pass on HIV to anyone else.
This is a massive breakthrough. It means that if everyone with HIV were on effective treatment, we could finally stop the spread of HIV. Until then, it is essential to use condoms to protect yourself.
There are many ways you can test for HIV, you can visit LASS for a free, confidential rapid HIV test, you can sample your own blood/saliva and send it to a laboratory for the results which are then sent back to you (free) or you may wish to purchase a test which gives you a diagnosis in the comfort in your own home. More information on HIV testing at LASS, at home, elsewhere in Leicester/shire and testing locations around the UK are available online here: http://www.lass.org.uk/hiv-testing/