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Here’s what we all need to know about HIV

It’s a message we’ve started hearing more and more about recently, in relation to HIV and those living with the virus: U = U. But what does it mean? And why is it something we should be sharing?

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 20.10.2021

U = U

U = U stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable. 

What a lot of us still don’t realise is that if a person with HIV is on treatment, they are virally supressed – which means they can’t pass the virus on. 

If a person adheres to HIV medication, the virus in the blood reduces to undetectable levels. Scientists can now say with complete confidence that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can no longer pass on HIV to others, even when sex is unprotected. 


So, what are the stats? 

In 2019, it was estimated that there were 105,200 people living with HIV in the UK:

  • 94% of these people were diagnosed, so know they have HIV. 
  • This means that around 1 in 16 people living with HIV in the UK do not know that they have the virus. 
  • 98% of people diagnosed with HIV in the UK are on treatment. 
  • 97% of those on treatment are virally suppressed, which means they can’t pass the virus on. 
  • Of all the people living with HIV in the UK, 89% are virally suppressed.

Why is it a message we should be sharing? 

In the UK, we now have medications that can treat HIV – which allows people to live a near normal life expectancy. This is so different to the life expectancy people were told in the ‘80s and early ‘90s – and as most of us have seen relieved in It’s A Sin earlier this year. Even still, today there remains a lot of ignorance, stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV.

Knowing that they can’t pass the virus on is one of the most positive messages someone living with HIV can hear. It reduces the stigma around HIV and provides motivation for them to stay on treatment to keep both themselves and their sexual partners healthy.

If everyone knew this simple and powerful message, we could bring an end to the stigma that still surrounds HIV. Not only that, but we could stop HIV transmissions altogether.

We know that while amazing medical progress has been made, knowledge of HIV hasn’t kept up with that progress. Stigma that affects people living with HIV also stops others from getting tested. 

The more people who test and get onto effective treatment, the fewer HIV transmissions will happen.

The Eyes Open Steering Group

The Eyes Open Steering Group was established here in the North East in 2003, as a way of regionally pooling resources to widen and strengthen the impact of work at both local and regional levels regarding HIV/AIDS.

Their aims are to raise awareness and increase the education around HIV/AIDS, as well as to work with individuals, voluntary organisations and statutory authorities to raise increase our understanding and reduce onward transmission.

In 2021, the areas involved in the Eyes Open Steering Group are:

  • Newcastle: staff from the NHS and Newcastle City Council.
  • North Tyneside: staff from the NHS
  • Northumberland: staff from the NHS and Northumbria County Council.
  • Cumbria: staff from the NHS.
  • Blue Sky Trust, charity for people living with HIV Cumbria and the North-East region.
  • Together We Can Fundraising Limited: support with raising money for the campaign, also some staff members are also living with HIV, based in Cumbria.
  • 14 committee members.
  • 35% of people on the committee are living with HIV.

Lend your voice 

On Wednesday 20th October, Eyes Open launched their U=U campaign, to create an opportunity to raise awareness, get people talking and educate more people about what U=U means today for people living with HIV. 

The campaign will run from the North East and Cumbrian regions, as well as online to reach as many people as they can, across the UK and beyond.  

Hopefully their efforts – together with us continuing the conversation and talking to each other – will educate more people about what U=U means for people living with HIV today, help breakdown the stigma and discrimination that still exists, develop the confidence and skills of the HIV+ community and finally end the number of HIV transmissions here in the UK. 

Support the Government campaign to end all new HIV transmissions by 2030 here. 

To find out more about The Eyes Open Steering Group, visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Instagram 

To learn more about the U = U message, visit the Terrence Higgins Trust

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