Today is World Aids Day and, to mark the occasion, The Argus has looked back at the history of the HIV/Aids epidemic in Brighton 40 years since the virus was first detected in the city.

We have spoken to people from across the city about their stories of living with HIV and the work to eradicate the virus in the city over the last four decades.

A subscription, supporting our original journalism, is required to read some of the articles in this series.

'Death of my soulmate inspired my Aids memorial'

People will gather at an Aids memorial in Kemp Town later today to remember those who have died of Aids in the city.

Romany Mark Bruce, the designer and creator of the memorial, spoke to The Argus about how the death of his “soulmate” Paul Tay inspired the sculpture.

Paul died less than a month before his 33rd birthday in 1992, ten months after he was diagnosed.

Speaking about his sculpture, named Tay, he said: “It’s powerful for me, as it is for others, as it brings back memories of somebody very special.”

'Activists went from flinging feather boas to manning Aids phone lines'

Comedian and one of the founders of the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall Simon Fanshawe remembers the exact moment he first heard about Aids 40 years on, having been told by a close friend, who was a scientist, about the spread of a “gay cancer”.

Simon told The Argus: “It felt very much as if we were under siege. It was terrifying.”

He also said that the gay community rallied together to support those living with the virus and became involved with the Sussex Aids Helpline, which provided advice for those worried about or affected by HIV.

“People went from flinging feather boas over policemen to this extraordinary response,” he said.

'Everybody knew of somebody who had tested positive'

Among the groups that support people living with HIV is Lunch Positive, which has recently been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service - the highest award a local voluntary group can receive in the UK.

Director of the charity, Gary Pargeter, told The Argus that the LGBTQ+ scene in Brighton was much smaller than it is now and that there was a greater social intimacy.

“Therefore, inevitably, everybody would know of somebody who was diagnosed with HIV or had Aids,” he said.

Inspiration behind It's A Sin on how virus has changed

The Sussex Beacon marks its 30th anniversary this year, initially starting life as a hospice for those at the end of their lives.

Jill Nalder, a patron for the charity, was the inspiration behind one of the characters behind the Channel 4 HIV drama It’s A Sin, and reflected on how much life with the virus had changed.

She said: “The miraculous moment was at a conference in Vancouver in the 1990s, when they announced combination therapies - that was a game changer.

“People who were preparing to die could suddenly live, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

'Diagnosis really hit me sideways'

The Terrence Higgins Trust also marks its 40th anniversary this year, with the charity’s centre manager in Brighton Marc Tweed reflecting on his own experience of living with HIV.

Speaking about his diagnosis in 2003, Marc told The Argus: “It wasn’t something that I was expecting and it really hit me sideways.”

After initially not responding well to medication, he now lives a normal life and said his condition has “become something that’s very much in the background”.

He said: “My own life with HIV doesn’t impact my life at all really. I just go to the clinic and I take my tablets.”

'I didn't expect to be here now living with HIV'

John Jaquiss also has been able to live a normal life after contracting HIV in 2001, after initially thinking he would be lucky to reach the age of 60.

He now works alongside the Terrence Higgins Trust to help educate younger generations about the virus.

He told The Argus: “I love to be able to help educate other people about HIV, because it is all about breaking down stigma and normalise things around the virus.”

He also spoke about the moment two of his closest friends told him that they had tested positive for the virus and thought they were condemned to die.

'My friend who died of Aids told me he would be one of my angels'

Harry Hillery, founder of the Brighton Aids memorial group, spoke about the heart-breaking story of the death of his close friend Andrea just months after his 26th birthday.

He remembered how, while watching a film together, Andrea turned to him and said: “I’m dying but I’ll be one of your angels when I’m gone.”

Speaking about what life was like at the height of the virus’ spread, Harry said: “You would walk up St James’s Street and see people, and you knew you might not see them again.”

The story from the frontline during the spread of HIV and Aids

Those working in NHS wards were often on the front line dealing with those living with HIV.

Heather Leake Date, a consultant pharmacist for HIV and sexual health in Brighton, remembered how, at the virus’ peak, an HIV ward at Hove General Hospital lost three or four people a week.

She paid tribute to Martin Fishher - the city’s first full-time HIV consultant, who passed away in 2015.

“He was a legend. He had the same vision of wanting to make Brighton have the best quality of care for HIV patients,” Heather said.

Dr Gillian Dean, an HIV consultant in the city for more than 20 years, said that huge progress has been in made in transforming the lives of people living with HIV and that the goal of eliminating HIV transmission is within the city’s grasp.

She said that everyone should make sure they are tested regularly, so they can be diagnosed at the earliest possible opportunity.

Dr Dean told The Argus: “People who have a late diagnosis are ten times more likely to die in the first year after diagnosis than if they were otherwise diagnosed early.

“Testing has never been easier and shouldn’t be scary - if you’ve got it, we can do something about it and if you haven’t got it, you can carry on protecting yourself.”

'We can stop HIV in this decade'

Brighton MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle was the first person to openly talk about living with HIV in the House of Commons in a speech ahead of World Aids Day in 2018.

He told The Argus about the fear he had before being diagnosed, but that he can now live a normal and healthy life with medication.

He also said that the city had a “great opportunity” to eliminate new transmissions of HIV.

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 few hundred or so people, we can stop the transmission of HIV in this decade.”

'HIV should be viewed the same way as any other chronic illness'

Council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty grew up at the height of the Aids epidemic and remembers friends that he lost to the virus.

He also praised the work being done to ensure that no-one else has to go through the same experience in the future.

Cllr Mac Cafferty said: “HIV needs to be viewed in the same way as any other chronic health condition - not just for good health reasons, but also so that people living with the virus can better access support.”