Francis Maude: Aids Day is poignant time for my family

Horsham MP Francis Maude
Horsham MP Francis Maude
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This Sunday, 1st December, marks World Aids Day. This is always a particularly poignant time for my family, and this year especially so as it is now 20 years since my older brother Charles died of Aids at the tragically young age of 42.

It seems odd to think that the first cases in the UK came to light only 30 years ago, and in that lifetime of just one generation we have moved from puzzlement through shock and hysteria almost to complacency now the success of various treatments is well proven.

Yet there are still 100,000 people in the UK living with HIV, an increase of 2.4 per cent in just one year, and estimates suggest that one in five of those who have the virus are undiagnosed.

We have made good progress with drugs, yet public awareness and knowledge are actually declining which might account for this increase in cases.

I would urge you to read and share five simple facts about Aids which you can find on http://worldaidsday.org/act-aware.php.

These should go a long way towards dispelling some of the common myths about HIV in the 21st century, and they tell some good news.

People living with HIV can expect a normal lifespan if diagnosed and treated in time; there is no job which someone can’t do specifically because they have HIV; men and women living with HIV can become parents of an HIV-free baby (fewer than one per cent of babies born to HIV mothers are positive themselves), and treatment can reduce infectiousness by 96 per cent.

All good news indeed. But the sad fifth fact is that many people living with HIV still face stigma and discrimination, and the fear of this is still preventing many people from taking a test.

Being diagnosed early not only improves the chances of having a normal lifespan, it also means that fewer people will become infected by the sufferer once treatment starts.

I will be wearing a red ribbon for Charles next week and I hope that December 1st will, in my lifetime, become just another day in the calendar as we finally crack this most hideous of wasting diseases.