New campaign to help eliminate HIV

The University of Brighton is working on a national campaign which aims to help eliminate HIV within a generation.

Dr Mary Darking

Dr Mary Darking

In partnership with clinicians and researchers, the campaign’s goal will be to improve the nation’s knowledge and understanding of HIV, and by doing so reduce the stigma associated with the virus.

It is hoped this will encourage more people to come forward for testing.  When diagnosed early, highly effective treatment for HIV largely guarantees a good quality of life and an extremely low chance of passing the virus on.

Dr Mary Darking, Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Applied Social Science said the United Nations recently reported that “the scales have tipped” – for the first time more than half of people living with HIV (53%) have access to treatment, and HIV-related deaths have almost halved since 2005.

She said: “Through intensive effort on the part of communities, clinicians, researchers and policy makers, the scales are tipping in the right direction. The consequences of them tipping the other way – of the world moving from a position where we are making progress, to one where we are losing ground – are grave and would be borne by generations to come. 

“However, if progress continues, there is optimism that we could end HIV in a generation. 

“This could be achieved if testing for HIV became something that people were proud of.  And they should!  Because it is by testing we become the generation that ended HIV/AIDS.  It would mean actively ensuring our knowledge is up-to-date.

“It would mean understanding and not judging.”

The University will be working with clinicians and researchers at the Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH) and Dr Jaime Vera at the Brighton & Sussex Medical School (BSMS).

Funding is being provided by Public Health England (HIV Innovations Awards 2017/8). In addition to helping develop the campaign, the University’s School of Applied Social Science will evaluate its outcomes.

The project, which runs until November 2018, involves developing a digital public health campaign to ensure “the public knows about and understands what is at stake and how their actions can make a difference”.

Debra Humphris

Debra Humphris

Professor Debra Humphris, the University of Brighton’s Vice-Chancellor, added her support to the campaign: “HIV has brought misery to thousands of people and I am so pleased Dr Darking and the University are playing a part in bringing an end to the stigma surrounding this virus and, in doing so, helping banish AIDS.”

Led by Dr Gillian Dean from the Lawson Unit (BSUH), which offers treatment and support for people with HIV, the project will develop a digital social media campaign using illustrations, films and testimonials from people living with HIV to challenge assumptions and improve knowledge.

Dr Carlos Peralta from the University’s School of Architecture and Design and Dr Liliana Rodriguez from the Martin Fisher Foundation, will lead the design and development of the campaign.

The leading international anti-bullying charity, Ditch the Label, based in Brighton & Hove, will be tasked with making the short films and ensuring the campaign reaches as many people as possible through social media platforms.

The campaign is one of a number of projects being conducted by clinicians at the Lawson Unit in collaboration with the Martin Fisher Foundation, which led Brighton & Hove’s successful bid to become the first UK City to achieve United Nation’s ‘Fast-Track City’ status.

Fast-Track City’s aim to achieve the following targets:

♦ 90% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) knowing their HIV status
♦ 90% of PLHIV who know their HIV-positive status on antiretroviral therapy (ART)
♦ 90% of PLHIV on ART achieving viral suppression
♦ Zero stigma and discrimination

The University contributed to the application and continues to be a local partner.

Dr Darking said: “So much has changed about HIV. The nation needs a knowledge update.

“There is a real opportunity here to inspire new ways of thinking about and understanding of HIV. That is what this group wants to achieve.”

Dr Darking said she wants to involve as many people at the University in the project as possible: “I will be recruiting staff and students to focus groups and hope as many people participate as possible.

“I’d like to get the University community behind the campaign, if I can, so they see themselves as contributing to making it successful.”

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