IT is a war we’ve been fighting for 40 years but as we approach the anniversary next month of the disclosure of the virus and the year when the first Briton died, an expert believes we are finally close to vanquishing our enemy for good.

David Bingham, health promotion manager at Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, is putting his faith in science and also a testing programme that is reducing its spread.

He said: “Hopefully we can find a cure, and maybe even sooner than 40 years.

“And even now the trials are changing and they’re having clinical trials, of having one injection that will last a period of weeks and months or having an implant, like a long-term contraception so that you don’t have to take a pill every day.

“We’re seeing now that more people know their status, more people are getting treatment and if they take treatment as directed they cannot pass on HIV.

“So they’re stopping the spread of HIV, so we’re seeing a decline in new HIV diagnoses.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust estimates that 6122 are currently living with HIV in Scotland.

But it highlights that about 8% are not aware of it and it has launched an awareness and education initiative Tackle HIV with former British and Irish Lions captain Gareth Thomas and ViiV Healthcare to address that.

Bingham added: “Any diagnosis of HIV can be devastating but there are real benefits of knowing your status, both for yourself and your partner.

“If people accept treatment and care they can live a long and healthy life.”

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Bingham believes that the perception of who contracts HIV is still loaded against the gay community and drug-users.

He added: “It’s not specific to those categories. Over the years working in Scotland I’ve met quite a few heterosexuals, both male and female, who don’t fit into those categories who have acquired HIV because they have had unprotected sex with someone who is living with HIV who is also heterosexual.

“So we can never state that it is a particular group, that you are only concerned about HIV if you belong to a particular demographic, because theoretically anyone could put themselves at risk of HIV.

“I remember when I was supporting a couple of people being diagnosed for HIV who were heterosexual, not involved in drug use or prostitution, and were somewhat more shocked.

“For them it was never a thought or reality because they had grown up with the idea that it’s not an issue for them.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust is quick to stress, though, the advances that have been made scientifically in the 40 years since HIV first arrived on our shores.

“Going back to the 80s, your life expectancy then was probably at most between 10 and 15 years.

“People weren’t actually testing as often as they are now There weren’t as many opportunities to test.

“And the treatments, if any, were very toxic. They didn’t really prolong your life at any great level where there were any real benefits.

“It was very, very dark at the point of diagnosis. No-one could really think about the future.

“Loved ones of people living with HIV had to accept that this person would not be here in the near future.

“But if you move to now, and even if you go back to when I moved to Scotland in 1997, and working with people living with HIV, there were up to 30 tablets a day.

“Some of those tablets you had to take with two litres of water. Some of those tablets had really toxic side-effects so you could never really leave the house because it was causing problems.

“Now it’s as little as one pill a day with very few side-effects. And once you’ve got the levels right within your body you’ll live a long and healthy life.”

The National:

David Bingham, health promotion manager at Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland

But for all the progress made in the scientific field, societal prejudices around HIV can be harder to shift.

Bingham said: “Forty years ago there were a lot of things going on. It wasn’t just about HIV, it was about the politics of being gay. We’ve seen that in recent times with [television drama] It’s A Sin.

“It wasn’t just about having HIV, it was about coming out as gay or bi as well. There was a lot of stigma around that and intravenous drug use. And a lot of racism.

“Today we live in a society that is much more accepting of minority groups.

“What has improved massively is treatment, and knowing your status is a life-saver.

“And now we can bust myths too. We know everything about the science around HIV and if people are passing around the myths that say you can get HIV by kissing or touching there are so many resources around to state that that’s not true.”

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The Terrence Higgins Trust has made giant strides in combating these prejudices on an everyday basis.

Bingham added: “We run testing services and one of the questions that we always ask is ‘has anyone you’ve had sexual relationships with disclosed to you that they’ve got HIV?’ “And sometimes people will say ‘oh, I wouldn’t have sex with someone with HIV’ but I say ‘yeah, but 8% of people don’t know they’ve got it.’ “And in that context then you can educate and say that if the person knew that they had HIV and was on treatment, and has an undetectable viral load, science categorically states that you cannot contract HIV from that person.”

THE Terrence Higgins Trust says it understands why people may be reluctant to get tested and is keen that attitudes change towards that.

Bingham said: “I think people don’t test for a couple of reasons. One, because they don’t think they can be at risk because it affects only particular groups.

“And also because people are afraid, and I saw that more so years ago because there was nothing to be gained from knowing your status because the treatments weren’t so great.

“People would say ‘why do I need to know about HIV because it will impact my mental health and it’s going to make what life I do have left unbearable?’ “And I think that some people might have that in their head.

“But there are organisations out there that can support you dealing with the diagnosis, helping you better understand what’s going on, talking you through some of your anxieties and empathise.

“There are opportunities too to talk to other people living with HIV having regular lives.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust believes that it is beneficial to us all to consider an HIV test without feeling any stigma.

Bingham added: “Anyone who is having unprotected sex should really go and have a sexual health check. Anyone entering into a new sexual relationship, to protect you and your partner, you should really go and have a sexual health check-up or an HIV check-up.

“I would also remind people who are part of that higher-risk group definitely, get or order an HIV test.

“There are lots of options. And if you find it difficult to go to a clinic for whatever reasons or you’re nervous about going to your GP because things will be stored on files, you can order a test online to your house.

“You can do it anonymously. No-one needs to know about it. It’s very confidential.

“And there are dedicated services to support people with HIV. It doesn’t go on every record, it’s locked tight in specific databases.”