It's A Sin's Russell T Davies issues stark warning about spread of HIV – comparing it to coronavirus pandemic

SCIENCE may have come far enough that a HIV diagnosis in no longer a 'death sentence', but TV writer Russell T Davies has warned against "complacency".

While promoting his new Channel 4 drama It's A Sin – perhaps the first British drama to document the early days of the HIV pandemic in this country – Davies (Doctor Who, Queer as Folk) said not enough at risk people were getting tested.

The Channel 4 drama which premieres later this month, follows four young friends in the 1980s who watch their worlds unravel over the first decade of the HIV pandemic.

Davies marvelled how in the age of the coronavirus, the world was now grappling with two pandemics – HIV is the only other current pandemic according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"The world happens to have caught up with us in terms of viruses, that's a very strange thing," he said.

"It's been strange listening to Radio 2 people talking about 'the one great virus of their lifetime'. No, there's been 2! Strange days aren't they?"

Davies drew 'weird' parallels between HIV and the coronavirus pandemics in that they have "the same process of marginalisation". 

"It's still rich, white people in charge and even now, you can see the same patterns recurring and if you're on minimal wage or no wage you've had it," Davies contended.

As an 18 year old living in London in 1981, Davies experienced the HIV pandemic firsthand and it took him decades to bring It's A Sin to life, because he wanted to tell the story properly.

He also wanted to convey the trauma of what it was like losing so many friends to HIV in your formative years.

Davies warned younger people at high risk of acquiring HIV – such as, men who have sex with men – to not become 'complacent'.

He credited the advances in science and the preventative medicine pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), but said young people don't seem to understand that HIV means a lifetime of taking medications.

"The world would still be better if an awful lot of more people got tested. the numbers of people walking around untested with HIV is frightening," the writer asserted.

"We do tend to talk as though it's over, just because there's medication, there is apparently a younger generation growing up, some of the younger generation thinking it's fine because they can get medicines."

Matthew Hodson, the executive director of aidsmap – the HIV information charity agreed that getting tested for HIV was one of the best ways to prevent new infections.

"When people with HIV are on treatment they can’t pass the virus on to their sexual partners," he explained.

But Hodson also credited "the UK’s success in diagnosing and treating people with HIV" as "among the best in the world".

"The latest figures show that 94% of all people with HIV in the UK have been diagnosed and 95% of those can now have sex without any risk of passing the virus on, with or without condoms," he said.

Hodson also acknowledged that "people with HIV can now live long and healthy lives" but are still more likely to experience a range of health conditions.

Some of those conditions include, heart disease, some cancers, dementia, depression and anxiety.

But Hodson was glad a show like It's A Sin existed, so that younger people could learn about the horrors of the early days of the HIV pandemic.

"I hope that younger people watching It’s a Sin will better understand the trauma that my generation of gay and bisexual men went through," he explained.

"I went to more funerals for my friends in my twenties than I have in the decades since.

"We channelled that grief and anger into creating the information and support services to help us survive."

He added: "We had to fight for our health rights."

"These lessons are just as important now in the struggle against COVID-19."

It's A Sin stars Keeley Hawes, Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Fry and Years and Years singer Olly Alexander, among many emerging actors.

 It's A Sin premieres on Friday January 22 at 9pm on Channel 4.

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