Earlier this evening, The Queen’s University Literific Society was debating the motion,

This House Believes we will see the end of AIDS

I was invited to speak in the debate, which is how they are marking World AIDS Day. It is some time since I have spoken in a formal debate, so I hope that my speech is good enough for them. Below is the text of my speech as I wrote it, what was delivered may have varied a bit. Also, this post was scheduled to go live this evening during the debate, so watch out on Twitter for the result of the debate. I am sure that The Literific will have been tweeting.

Created using wordle.net
Created using wordle.net

I rise to propose/support* the motion that This House believes that we will see the end of AIDS.

It is my contention that today we already have the power to end AIDS. Whether we manage it or not, is up to the global community, but this will take all of us to commit to doing our part in the global fight against AIDS. I hope that whatever the outcome of this debate, each of us here will agree to do what we can in our own lives to combat AIDS.

My name is Michael, I am living with HIV. HIV is the virus that—without successful treatment—leads to AIDS. With successful treatment, the virus can be controlled. Today, we are fortunate that there are many drug regimes that do just that. They control the virus, they make it so that it cannot reproduce itself in our bodies, and they help to keep us healthy.

Keeping everyone with HIV healthy has been a huge challenge to the medical and pharmaceutical industries in the last thirty years. In the early days of HIV there was nothing that could be done, and many, many people died. Today, if someone contracts HIV, and he or she receives modern antiretroviral drugs, the virus can and will be controlled. Here and now in 2013 there are people who have been living with HIV for decades, as they have been on antiretroviral treatment, controlling the virus that they carry. When I think of friends who have been Positive for decades, I know that they are some of the healthiest people I know—thanks to the drugs.

Today, being HIV-positive does not mean that you will develop AIDS, and it doesn’t mean that you will have a reduced life expectancy. But it does have one certainty, once you start antiretroviral treatment, you are more than likely going to be taking the drugs every day for the rest of your natural life.

Someone living with HIV, who is on successful treatment is much less likely to pass on the virus. If the virus is harder to pass on, fewer infections will occur.

I said earlier that there are things which the human race, the global community must do to combat AIDS. I reckon that these can be narrowed down to three things.

First, we must make HIV testing available easily to everyone.You may have only had unprotected sexual intercourse once, or shared a needle with someone, or had a blood transfusion somewhere where blood is not screened for HIV, or you may have done none of these things. Either way, there is only one way of knowing whether you are living with HIV or not: that is by having an HIV test. There is a variety of tests available, and here in Belfast a variety of places you can go. If you want further information on that, speak to me after the debate, or visit positivelifeni.com. We are fortunate, in other places it can be difficult to find somewhere to take the test—and in some places you may have to pay to do so. As I said earlier, we can control HIV with drugs—as long as we know who needs those drugs.

Secondly, we must make sure that everyone living with HIV has access to treatment, access to the drugs that will control the HIV in their bodies. This action will naturally require significant effort on the part of national governments—not unlike the way that government-level work was needed to end polio. There are many international bodies working to further the goal of access to treatment for everyone living with HIV including UNAIDS and the International AIDS/HIV Alliance.

Thirdly, we need to educate people. How many people in this House are confident that they know how HIV is transmitted, and also how it is not. There are many countries around the world where people living with HIV are shunned by their own communities as a result of fear about catching HIV from them. Even here in Northern Ireland, just after I was diagnosed in 2009, I had to educate someone near to me that I could use the same crockery, glassware, cutlery, and linen as he. Sharing everyday utensils is not a method of transmission for HIV. The three main ways of transmission are:

  1. having unprotected sexual intercourse with a partner who is living with HIV;
  2. from mother to baby during pregnancy and childbirth;
  3. sharing needles with someone who is living with HIV.

In the words of a the HIV Hop

“You can’t catch HIV from kissing, hugging, sharing drinks, handshakes, high fives, smiles and winks.”

I reckoned earlier that there were three things we could do as a global community, but there is a fourth thing that each of us can do—as individuals—and that is to use condoms. For condoms, used correctly, prevent the transmission of HIV.

We can control the virus so that people living with HIV do not develop AIDS. We can end transmission of the virus so that there will be no new infections. With the tools that we have today, I believe that we will see the end of AIDS. I urge you to support the motion, and more importantly, I urge you to take responsibility for your own sexual health, and to join the global campaign to combat the spread of HIV.


* At the time of writing it was not clear who was going to propose/support the motion.