David Stuart, manager of the Dean Street Wellbeing programme, writes on the dramatic reduction in new HIV diagnoses seen at 56 Dean Street during 2016. Here we republish David’s piece from the Dean Street Community blog.
In 2016, 56 Dean Street saw a dramatic reduction in new HIV diagnoses; with similar reductions confirmed by other London clinics.
It’s not just that we diagnosed fewer people; evidence suggests that hundreds of fewer gay Londoners caught HIV last year.
This is the greatest reduction London has seen since the beginning of the epidemic.
Yes you; congratulations.
You did this.
There are certainly many people, teams, organizations, campaigns, medicines, and initiatives to thank for this. From the doctors and public health leaders doing brilliant work addressing HIV epidemiology, to the nurses who made us welcome in clinic, made us want to come back. Again and again. From the campaigners and activists who brought unavailable medicines to the masses to the people developing HIV prevention campaigns that kept us aware. To all the healthcare professionals, including therapists who nursed us through those periods when we didn’t care about our health or others… all contributed to this city celebrating this happy breakthrough.
But it’s you I’m thanking. Because you did this. And maybe you don’t know it.
In 2016, you got on with your life. You had the ups and downs. You negotiated all the bumps that London Gay life puts before us. You looked for shags, you looked for love. You looked for friends, you looked for that job, or pursued that college application. You tried chems, or you turned them down, you had that condom mishap, and tried to get your head around what “undetectable” really means. You got rejected on Grindr – you rejected others on Grindr, and woops… not always kindly. You felt sexy and you felt ugly, and sometimes both in the same moment. It didn’t work out. Or maybe it did. For a while.
And there was that rotten weekend. That rotten weekend that turned into a rotten month.
Did you lose a friend? Not a close one, just that guy you used to know from the clubs; that one who took too much G. You found out about it from Facebook.
It wasn’t an easy year.
But you do have this to celebrate. This breakthrough in the HIV epidemic – this is your success. It would be easy to sit back and watch the good news scroll over your Facebook wall or Twitter feed, as if someone else did this.
But this was you. And I want you to feel connected to it, feel some ownership of it.
Like you caused it.
Because you did.
Every time you wore a condom, you protected your community.
Every time you had that awkward but necessary HIV discussion in bed with a hook-up, you were helping to keep our HIV infections down.
Every time you took your HIV medicines on time, you were doing that.
That time you summoned the courage to talk to a nurse about PrEP… you were doing that.
Every time you tweeted you’d had your routine screen at Dean Street Express, you were breaking down stigma… and yes, that’s what brought the number of new HIV infections down.
You did that.
Ah; there was that time you chose to go with a mate to that community event, instead of the traditional pub crawl. Fabulous, thank you. You were doing it then.
That time you changed your Grindr profile to say “I care about my health & yours”… you were protecting your community from HIV. And every time you came nervously for a PEP assessment, even when you weren’t sure… Yep; that was you bringing down HIV infections in London. And the time you had those rotten night sweats and fever, and you came to see a nurse, just in case it was HIV seroconversion. It was scary… it would have been easier to stay in bed and hope it passed. But you came to see us at 56 Dean Street, bravely. You were doing it then.
That month when you got some help with chems, faced that fear and talked about your sex life with a chems advisor… that was awesome. That was you caring about yourself and your community, and making this HIV breakthrough all yours.
And that time… that time your friend was being a dick, being irresponsible, doing too many chems and being unsafe; and rather than reprimanding or chastising him, you were sympathetic, and nurtured him back to a place of better self worth and self care. It took months. Maybe more. He’s really having a difficult time of it. That was you being a great friend, a great community member, and yes – contributing to this HIV victory.
This is yours.
This epidemic has always been yours, shackles and all.
But the shackles are off.
This is now our epidemic to beat. And it’s in reach.
Fewer of us caught HIV last year than have in decades.
Sure; it was PrEP, and undetectable viral loads. It was medicine and science and the NHS.
But it was also you. You negotiated your sex lives, and you were kind. You were imperfect and stumbled, but you tried, you’re still trying. You tested regularly, you negotiated your own kinds of HIV prevention, you got informed. You were there for your brothers who weren’t doing so well at it, and you looked after your own health and others. When you could.
And when you couldn’t, we were there, your team at 56 Dean Street, ready to help guide you back.
We’ll be there in 2017 too. Good luck this year, we hope it’s a better one. Please, enjoy this good news; don’t just watch as if it’s happening to someone else, or caused by someone else.
You did this. You made this great leap forward in gay history last year.
Feels good, doesn’t it?