Cardiff to become Wales’ First Fast Track City in the Fight Against HIV

An advertisement poster for a HIV test in a protest held by students in Ghana. Source: Nora Morgan (via Wikimedia Commons)

By Fflur Trevor | @Caerdydd Editor

Cardiff has officially become a Fast Track City with aims to significantly reduce the transmissions of HIV in UK by 2030.

What is HIV?

HIV (Human immunodefiency virus) is a virus that damages cells in the immune system and consequently weakens the body’s ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

Although many scientists believed that HIV originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1920s it did not become mainstream until the AIDS/HIV epidemic of the 1980s.

During the 1980s society was less accepting than today and fear of the disease caused an increase in homophobia and hatred.

Currently, there is no cure for HIV. However, there are very effective drugs treatments available to control the disease which enable people to live long and healthy lives.

As of 2018, approximately 103,800 people are living with HIV in the UK, a figure which has significantly reduced across the world.

The decrease in numbers are a result of treatment and a deeper understanding of the disease.

What is a fast track city?        

 The Fast-Track Cities initiative is a global partnership between cities around the world and four core partners – the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and the City of Paris.

The goal of this partnership is to reduce death and transmission of the disease.

In September 2020, Cardiff became a Fast Track City by signing the Paris Declaration on Fast Track cities. Consequently, Cardiff will work with 300 other cities in the partnership to towards sustaining the 90-90-90 UNAIDS target.

 Simplified, this means the targets aim to have 90% with the virus formally diagnosed, 90% of people having treatment for HIV and 90% of people having undetectable and un-transmittable viral loads.

The Paris Declaration was signed virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, with activists and medical professionals present during the signing.

Huw Thomas, Leader of Cardiff County Council, said: “I am pleased that we are signing this declaration today signifying that Cardiff too is joining the network and also expanding the Fast Track Cities network into Wales”

How will this affect Wales?

Many of the campaigners present at the signing saw this has a huge positive step in combating HIV. Both in terms of reducing death and transmission but also in removing the stigma that has surrounded HIV for decades.

Huw Thomas also stated: “We’re going to work to increase awareness of the virus both locally and nationally and will also work to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that exists across our services and society”

Moreover, it will support those in Wales and Cardiff who are already HIV positive, including workers and students, who may have moved to the city.

Since the epidemic in 1980s being HIV positive has become more accepted as society has become increasingly enlightened

In 2019, Gareth Thomas, the Welsh Rugby Union player, who came out as gay ten years prior, revealed that he was HIV positive. Subsequently, he filmed a documentary with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and with The Terrance Higgins Trust to raise awareness of the disease.

In order to halt the spread of the virus in his body, Gareth Thomas takes a modern antiretroviral every morning, while continuing with his everyday life.

Since his announcement, he has become a HIV Commissioner with aims to combat the stigma of HIV.

He said in an interview: “I believe what I do now is really what I care about because there’s not many people from a simple life that I come from who can have the power to change other people’s lives”

Wales has taken a progressive step by allowing Cardiff to become a Fast Track City. Moreover, it highlights the positive progression of Welsh society since the epidemic struck almost four decades ago. Hopefully, this will end the stigmatisation of the disease and offer support to those who are living with HIV.

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