In the run-up to World Aids Day on December 1, The Argus looks back at the history of the HIV/Aids epidemic in Brighton, some 40 years after the virus was first detected in the city.

We spoke to Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP for Brighton Kemptown, about his experience living with HIV and what it means to him to be a representative in Parliament for people living with the virus.

Ahead of World Aids Day in 2018, Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle decided it was time to speak out  and tell MPs how he felt “numb” and had a “sense of nothingness” when he was diagnosed with HIV in 2009.

He explained, at the time of his diagnosis, that he was sexually active and had been getting tested regularly.

Lloyd, 36, said: “The peak of HIV infections in this country was 2005 and it was widely talked about at many events and gay bars, but it was still something you hoped wouldn’t happen to you.

“I had gone to get tested for something else and an HIV test came back and I took it.

“When they later rang me to say to come in, I knew it was something more serious than had happened before. It was different from the normal, so immediately I knew something was wrong.

“It was worrying and scary, but I tried to think of ways that I might get out of this - like I had to take the test again or something, but in my mind, I knew it was something serious.”

When he found out that he was HIV positive, Lloyd said that the news hit him like a wall.

He said: “At that time, there wasn’t PrEP (antiviral drugs that prevent the spread of HIV), so the only prevention was the effective use of condoms, some forms of monogamy and abstinence, but none of them were fool-proof.

“I was worried I would never have a partner again, that I wouldn’t love again, that I wouldn’t have sex again. They were scary things.”

This fear was heightened as, at the time, people diagnosed with HIV were not immediately put on treatment. However, after several years of taking medication, Lloyd has become “undetectable”, meaning that HIV can not be detected in his system and cannot be transmitted to others.

'I felt it was important to be open about my HIV status'

Almost ten years after his diagnosis, Lloyd became the first MP to disclose his HIV status in the House of Commons.

In his speech, Lloyd said: “Understanding that I was unable to transmit HIV sexually has been life-changing. I went from thinking that I would never have an HIV-negative partner or that if I had sex with someone, I could pass this on, to knowing that I can live a normal life and that my partner is totally protected.”

Reflecting on his speech, Lloyd recalled Chris Smith, the first MP to live openly with HIV, and the circumstances around his “coming out” in 2005.

He said: “He had been contacted by the press a few years before and threatened to expose him.

“He then made a deal with them to come out in his own time but, at that point, his fate was sealed and he didn’t have all the power.

“On a personal level, I felt it was important I was open about this, as I didn’t want to allow that to happen in the future.”

Lloyd explained that many people expressed gratitude to him for speaking openly about his condition in public. 

“I had lots of people who come up and are appreciative. It is humbling and it’s always a heavy burden as well.

“It is important to be non-apologetic about it and live your life in the way you would have otherwise because you can show that people can live interesting lives with HIV.”

'We can stop HIV in this decade'

He said the challenges around HIV now are aiming towards ending new infections and tackling the remaining stigma around the virus.

“We also have a great opportunity to not have any new transmissions," he said. "Already transmissions in the city are in the low double digits and almost all of them are historic cases that have not been diagnosed.

“If we identify these 50 or a few hundred or so people, we can stop the transmission of HIV in this decade.”

He highlighted opt-out testing at A&E at Brighton's Royal Sussex County Hospital as being a vital tool in helping reach that goal.

“Some people who will go to the sexual health clinic and not get an HIV test because it’s opt-in, but in A&E it is opt-out, and that is already starting to find people who otherwise wouldn’t have been tested.

“They get the treatment they need, the support they require, and they can become undetectable - which means they can’t pass it on.”

Lloyd encouraged everyone to develop a habit of regularly testing for HIV to ensure people know their status.

“We need to have a culture of regular testing. We did it with Covid," he said.

“It is better to live your life in knowledge than die in fear.”