As a doctor, I’d rather have HIV than diabetes
‘There is now a deadly virus, which anyone can catch from sex with an infected person. If we’re not careful, the people who’ve died so far, will be just the tip of the iceberg… If you ignore Aids, it could be the death of you.’ It has been hailed as one of the most memorable health campaigns ever created. The message couldn’t have been clearer and people were petrified. For anyone over the age of 30, the ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Tombstone’ adverts — as they came to be known — with John Hurt’s menacing voice-over, still bring back a sense of crushing dread. The UK actually led the way with its HIV public health campaigns; it was considered so successful in raising awareness that other countries adopted similar adverts relying on shock and fear. The thing I am most struck by now, however, is how over-the-top they seem.
It’s now 30 years since HIV was discovered. During my training as a doctor in central London in the late 1990s, people were still dying of Aids. But since then, incredible pharmacological advances have been made in how the virus is treated and managed. Combination medications — termed ‘highly active antiretroviral therapy’ or Haart — have resulted in being able to maintain the infected person’s immune system and therefore prevent the opportunistic infections that resulted in the development of Aids and led to death. Despite working in the centre of London with high-risk groups such as sex workers and drug addicts, I haven’t seen someone die of HIV for years. It’s now incredibly rare to die as a result of HIV/Aids in this country. Continue reading