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National Theatre Blog

HIV and AIDS today with Terrence Higgins Trust

Terrence Higgins Trust
Our production The Normal Heart takes place during the 1980s AIDS crisis, as activist Ned Weeks sets out to unite the community in their fight for recognition and the right to survive. Today, many people and organisations continue to fight for recognition and the right to survive.
Terrence Higgins Trust are the UK's leading HIV & sexual health charity, and they've helped us with some facts and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS today.
HIV and AIDS are not the same thing
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS is a collection of illnesses caused when HIV weakens the immune system.
That means you don’t test for AIDS nor do people ‘have’ AIDS. Today we talk about people living with HIV and, thankfully, rarely need to talk about AIDS in the UK. Instead, doctors talk about late-stage or advanced HIV. But HIV can still cause serious illness if left untreated.
Find out more about HIV and AIDS
HIV can affect anyone – no matter your gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity
While The Normal Heart centres on a group of gay men in 1980s New York, Terrence Higgins Trust work with a whole host of different people as HIV can, and does, affect anyone of any age, sexuality, ethnicity or gender.
Despite this, 77% of UK adults have never had a HIV test. Routine testing needs to be increased to find the estimated 6,000 people living with undiagnosed HIV in the UK. It’s never been easier to get an HIV test and to get a result quickly. You can get a test in person or order tests online, with free and paid-for options. Many tests will provide you with a result in a just a few minutes.
Find out more about HIV testing
Modern HIV treatments keep the virus in check
Since the late 1990s, ever-improving treatments have revolutionised the outlook for people living with HIV. For most people living with HIV, it's a case of taking medication once a day, starting as soon as they are diagnosed.
Treatment protects the immune system from HIV and keeps the virus in check – but it must be taken consistently.
Find out more about how HIV treatment works
People on effective treatment can't pass on HIV
After a few months of treatment, the level of HIV in the blood is so low it's called 'undetectable'. Someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment and has an undetectable viral load can't pass it on.
This is one of the most positive messages someone living with HIV can hear. It reduces the stigma around HIV and provides motivation to stay on treatment to keep both themselves and their sexual partners healthy – and it means we can stop HIV transmissions altogether.
Find out more about viral load and being undetectable
HIV medication can stop HIV-negative people getting the virus
The latest big change in the HIV epidemic in the UK is the arrival of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
PrEP is a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV.  Taking PrEP before being exposed to HIV means there’s enough drug inside you to block HIV if it gets into your body.
PrEP is a game-changer when it comes to ending the HIV epidemic. Following a long campaign by organisations including Terrence Higgins Trust, it's now available on the NHS.
Find out more about PrEP
Discrimination still exists
While the science has come on leaps and bounds, some public attitudes to HIV have remained stuck in the 1980s. We found that even now over half of UK adults would feel uncomfortable kissing someone living with HIV, despite the virus never being passed on in that way. 
Negative attitudes to people living with HIV and stigma around the virus lead to discrimination. They're a big part of why people living with HIV report significantly higher mental health issues than the general population. And in 2021, there is no place for them.
Stigma hurts people living with HIV, it stops people talking openly about what the virus really means, and it puts people off getting tested and knowing their status.
Find out more about stigma
This decade can be the end of the epidemic in the UK
Terrence Higgins Trust are working alongside National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation to end HIV transmissions in the UK by 2030. They've got cross-party support and the UK Government is committed to producing an action plan this year.
The UK could be the first country in the world to end new cases of HIV by 2030. Please take action today — write to the Government urging them to invest in HIV in the upcoming spending review.
Show your support
Find out more about the great work Terrence Higgins Trust do, and how you can get involved this World AIDS Day.