Grant Sugden: HIV no longer a life sentence

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This year marks the start of Waverley Care’s 25th birthday year.

While I celebrate this landmark in our history, I am reminded of Hillary Clinton’s speech at the 2012 International Aids Conference where she called on delegates to work towards an “Aids-free generation”.

We have come a long way since 1989 when we first opened our doors, providing end of life care and support to people dying of Aids here in Edinburgh, resulting in a visit from Princess Diana, below.

There is now much to celebrate. In 2014, thanks to treatment advances, people diagnosed today with HIV can enjoy a normal life expectancy and babies born to women living with HIV can be born free of the virus.

At Waverley Care, a large number of the people we support are those growing old with HIV, something that seemed unimaginable in 1989. Things have significantly improved and although still a way off, scientists have even begun to talk optimistically about the possibility of a cure for HIV.

However, much remains for us to do. HIV hasn’t gone away. In 2012, there were 350 new diagnoses of HIV in Scotland – that’s almost one new case a day and it is estimated that 1300 people are infected but not diagnosed. Fear, ignorance and HIV stigma contributes to the spread of HIV as it means that people are scared to go for a test. If someone does not know that they are HIV positive, they may unknowingly infect other people or test late, leading to poorer health in the longer term. Challenging HIV stigma remains essential if we are going to reverse these trends.

As we look back at the last 25 years, there is sadness but also much to celebrate and I draw from Waverley Care a message of hope, inspiration and community engagement. Many people are living well thanks to our skilled staff and dedicated volunteers and I am reinvigorated daily by the continuing support we receive from a wide cross section of the community here.

Without them we wouldn’t be here today to continue working towards an Aids-free generation.

Grant Sugden is chief executive of Waverley Care