Local government, the NHS and charities are joining forces in a trail-blazing collaboration to mark this year’s World AIDS Day Birmingham – and the teamwork could point towards achieving the elimination of HIV, say experts.
Birmingham City Council, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham-based charities including Saving Lives, the team behind the Birmingham AIDS & HIV Memorial, and Birmingham LGBT will work together across the city on December 1st to combat the myths that still surround HIV.
Dr Steve Taylor is an HIV consultant at Heartlands Hospital. “HIV is now a treatable – though not a curable – illness,” he explains. “People who are on effective treatment can live productive, healthy lives and cannot transmit the virus to others through sexual contact.
“Advances in medical science have made a huge change to what living with HIV means. And this makes it all the more important that we test more people so everyone can access today’s life-saving treatment.”
The collaboration between councillors, doctors, and activists is aimed at breaking down the stigma that still surrounds the virus – and can lead to people choosing not to get tested for the virus.
Councillor Mariam Khan is Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care. “In 2021, Birmingham signed an agreement with UNAIDS to become a Fast Track City,” she says. “This committed all stakeholders in the city to work together to eliminate the spread of HIV by 2030. We can achieve this ambitious – but reachable – goal by working across communities to reduce stigma and encourage testing.”
The day will begin at Heartlands Hospital with the unveiling of a scale model of The Ribbons, the Birmingham AIDS & HIV Memorial unveiled near the Hippodrome on World AIDS Day last year. Its designer, Garry Jones, is a key figure in 2024’s World AIDS Day activity.
“Written on The Ribbons are the words Remember, Celebrate and Educate,” he says. “That’s because we need to commemorate those we have lost to HIV, raise up living with the virus today – and work together to dispel all the myths and inaccuracies that people still believe about HIV.”
Following the unveiling, activity will move to the city’s Library of Birmingham, where quilts reflecting the history of HIV in Birmingham will be on display. Volunteers will fan out across the city to hand out leaflets, engage in conversation and speak about the “Ten Things You Need To Know About HIV”.
The day will end with a reception at the iconic Back To Backs on Hurst Street, before a silent procession to the Memorial at the Hippodrome, where candles will be lit in an act of remembrance.
“It’s really important that our activity this year takes in iconic parts of the city’s landscape and history,” says Dan Hartland, Director of Saving Lives, a charity helping co-ordinate the day. “It’s wonderful to see the city come together to make a real difference to the health of everyone who lives here.”
Dr Taylor reaffirms this point: “HIV is relevant to everyone – anyone can contract the virus, and we’re all responsible for testing for it and ensuring we stop the spread.”