Warrington is marking World AIDS Day by lighting the Town Hall red and encouraging partners across the borough to #rocktheribbon – wearing the iconic World AIDS Day red ribbon – on Wednesday 1 December.

This year importantly marks the 40th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic and it is a day to reflect and remember people who have lost their lives because of HIV. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, but is just as important now that we continue to learn the facts and realities of HIV today in the UK and worldwide, and show support for those people still living with HIV.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. AIDS is a serious illness that can develop when HIV damages the immune system to such an extent that it can no longer fight off a range of infections it would normally cope with. AIDS only develops if HIV is left untreated. With effective medication, people living with HIV can’t pass on the virus and can live as long as anyone else.

Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV, and much more is known about the condition. Despite this, each year in the UK more than 4,000 people are diagnosed with HIV. Not everyone affected knows the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.

Cllr Maureen McLaughlin, cabinet member for public health and wellbeing, said: “Over 105,000 people are living with HIV in the UK and despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS-related illnesses, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in history.

“World AIDS Day is important because it reminds us that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money and awareness – both of which will help to champion the rights of people living with HIV, fight prejudice, and, ultimately, help us realise the national ambition of ending HIV cases by 2030.”

Advances in medicine mean a HIV positive person who takes HIV medication daily as prescribed can lead a full and active life and, if diagnosed promptly, has a normal life expectancy. Now, 98% of people living with HIV in the UK are on effective treatment and 97% can’t pass the virus on. However, late diagnoses remains high and, worryingly, only 45% of people can identify all the ways in which HIV is transmitted.

World AIDS Day, therefore, is an opportunity to show solidarity with the millions of people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide, and to remember those who sadly have lost their battle with AIDS too.

Sandra Mason, HIV Specialist Nurse at Warrington’s sexual health service, Axess, said: “World AIDS Day gives us a chance to celebrate and support all of the people across the country and the world living with this condition. We can also take some time to think about the people who have lost their fight against HIV, to highlight stigma and to promote education in regards to this treatable, controllable condition.”

You can find out more about World AIDS Day, and order fundraising materials, from the World AIDS Day website.

Every council provides, or make arrangements to secure the provision of, open access to sexual health services in its local area, including services for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. Free self-sampling HIV test kits are available for Warrington residents via the SH:24 online sexual health screening service.

If you are living with HIV, starting treatment early means you can live a full, healthy and productive life. Warrington’s sexual health service routinely offers HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis PrEP appointments to patients. Please see further information on Warrington’s sexual health service’s website.