Sadiq Khan is hoping that London’s first permanent HIV/AIDS memorial will “encourage people to ask questions” about the epidemic so they can learn about the history of the virus and the reality of living with it in 2023.
In line with World AIDS Day on 1 December, the Mayor of London announced that £130,000 of funding from the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm would go towards a memorial to remember the lives lost to HIV/AIDS and tackle discrimination.
It is set to be in place by 2026 and will be located in Camden near the site of the UK’s first dedicated HIV/AIDS hospital ward in the UK.
“The reason why we have memorials, we have statues, is because they make a difference, they remind people about our history, but also they encourage people to ask questions,” Khan told GAY TIMES. “What happened with this condition? Why was it that there was such a loss of life? What is the role of stigma going to play in relation to people suffering in silence going to receive treatment?”
40.4 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic
AIDS-related illnesses have so far claimed 40.4 million lives, according to data from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and roughly 39 million people globally were living with HIV in 2022.
Scientific advances mean that a diagnosis is no longer a death sentence and drugs like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have helped reduce the spread of HIV as countries like England move towards the goal of ending the epidemic by 2030.
Khan explained that when he was younger, many of the people he knew with the virus “didn’t survive and it’s quite humbling to understand that progress has been made,” which he is hopeful the memorial will also pay tribute to.
He continued: “When you’re my age, I’m afraid, you lived through the eighties and the nineties and that stigma and so, when I first became Mayor, shortly afterwards, I signed the 95-95-95 commitment, which is to have 95 per cent of people who have HIV diagnosed, 95 per cent receiving treatment, 95 per cent with a viral suppression and the great news is, we smashed those targets.
“And so, yes, we celebrate the progress, but we must never forget that there’s still stigma around today.”
The Mayor said “it’s inexplicable that it’s taken until 2023” for London to get a permanent memorial but is “hopeful we can be a beacon for the rest of the globe” in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“It encourages education, it encourages tackling prejudice”
This week, Khan signed City Hall up as the founding member of Fast-Track Cities, London’s new HIV Confident Charter to tackle stigma and discrimination in the workplace.
Developed in partnership with the HIV voluntary sector, people affected by HIV, the NHS, London Councils and public health organisations, the charter aims to ensure that those living with the virus can access services and jobs without fear of discrimination through a commitment to providing training for staff members, HIV friendly workplace policies, as well as tools to report discrimination.
Its accompanying ambassadors programme, which is delivered in partnership with leading sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, exists to ensure the lived experiences of people living with HIV are fully informing the charter.
Khan explained that his “ambition is for there to be zero new HIV cases by 2030” and is hoping that things like the charter will ensure stigma and discrimination are stamped out both before and beyond that year.
He praised “the innovation in science” and compared how far things have come since the height of the epidemic.
“Honestly, in the eighties, the idea of talking about safe sex and the idea of all the suffering wasn’t talked about, there was a stigma, but that’s changed now,” Khan added.
“So, with PrEP and the other advances, people shouldn’t be catching HIV with the right education, with the right drugs, but secondly, if they do, there are viral suppressants and treatment available, so it’s really important we talk about it.
“What I don’t want is for it to be taboo and that’s why us talking about it is important and a memorial encourages conversation. It encourages education, it encourages tackling prejudice.”
The artist commissioning process for the new memorial is currently underway and City Hall has been working closely with AIDS Memory UK, the charity driving the project, to make it a reality.