Ahead of our World AIDs Day fundraiser on the 1st of December we had a little chat with Alex, the fundriasing officer for Positive East. Alex has been with the charity for 2 and a half years, and works to engage with the local community and encourage them to support the work of Positive East!
What is Positive East’s mission?
All of the charity’s work and services are designed around our mission to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities affected by HIV in East London.
Can you tell us a little of the organisation’s history? How did it come into being?
Positive East came about at the height of the AIDS pandemic and was born out of an urgent need to address the significant issues that HIV presented in East London in the 80s. Two organisations were established – London East AIDS Network and the Globe Centre – which then merged in 1991 to better meet the needs of people living with HIV and became Positive East.
What kind of services do you provide?
We offer a wide range of services. We have an advice line, counselling and peer support services, tailored support groups including our Re:Assure Women’s Group which supports HIV positive women with past experiences of trauma. And of course, we deliver free HIV tests in the local community. We are a community-led organisation and I think one of the best things about our services is that so many of our programmes and groups are co-delivered by volunteers, many of whom are living with HIV themselves which means they are much better at understanding the issues and barriers that so many people living with HIV still face.
Why is it important that services like yours exist?
It’s so important – even more important than ever really – as less and less funding is being given to the HIV sector. This is a very significant time in the world of HIV. There are some great things to celebrate – a dramatic fall in new HIV diagnoses, particularly amongst gay men in London and London has also exceeded the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target (90% of people living with HIV are diagnosed, 90% of people diagnosed are on treatment, and 90% of those on treatment are adhering to their medication). We can also now say categorically that someone living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load cannot pass on the virus (Undetectable = Untransmittable) and PrEP works as an effective method of preventing onward transmission!
However, although these are fabulous developments, the challenge remains that not everyone and not all communities are benefiting. HIV stigma is still a reality and there are far too many people undiagnosed or diagnosed late. There are 50,000 Londoners living with HIV which of course means that HIV support services are still needed.
How has the work that Positive East does changed over the last decade?
We have always worked and will continue to work towards improving the lives of people living with HIV. We know that there have been incredible developments in HIV medication but unfortunately, society – and its approach to HIV – needs to catch up. Stigma, isolation and ill mental health are still very real challenges that require bespoke support and there are now fewer organisations that offer similar services. Without our work, thousands of people living with HIV would not receive support and advice to manage an HIV diagnosis.
How has austerity affected your service users and your work as an organisation (if at all)?
It has impacted us severely. Sexual health services, Positive East included, are facing significant funding cuts year on year. It looks like this is going to continue into the future as well which means we are becoming increasingly reliant on the support of our local community.
What advice would you give to someone who has been newly diagnosed with HIV?
First of all, you’re not alone. Positive East is here to support you. As I mentioned, HIV medication is very advanced which means that someone diagnosed now, who adheres to their medication, can continue living their life as normal with very few changes. And all of our programmes and services are designed to make the journey towards managing an HIV diagnosis as smooth and stress-free as possible.
What are the best ways for people to get involved in and support Positive East’s work?
I mentioned that we are facing some fairly significant funding cuts, so we urgently need both people and organisations to support us so that we can continue our work. You can make donations to the charity through our website – www.positiveeast.org.uk – or you can fundraise for the charity by setting up an online fundraising page. We cannot thank Dalston Superstore enough for the fantastic support they have shown for Positive East as well – you are so amazing! We are always looking for volunteers to help us deliver our work, whether that’s staffing our reception desk for a couple of hours or delivering outreach in the local community to raise awareness of HIV. There are lots of different roles! You can find out more by emailing our Volunteer Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org
Most importantly are you looking forward to letting your hair down at the party after the World AIDS Day Red Run?!
YES! Absolutely! It’s been really fantastic organising what has now become the UK’s largest World AIDS Day community event and I can’t wait to continue the celebrations with Superstore on the night!
Find the event for our World AIDs Day fundraiser here. All profits from the door price will go directly to Positive East.