Updated: Wednesday, 3rd June 2020 @ 3:06pm

‘Be the Light’: Manchester marks World AIDS Day with city centre procession and campaign to get people HIV tested

‘Be the Light’: Manchester marks World AIDS Day with city centre procession and campaign to get people HIV tested

By Lucy Kenderdine

World AIDS Day will be marked in Manchester today with a procession through the city centre as groups and politicians join forces against the disease.

For the first time, December 1 will see participants walking through the streets of the city carrying lanterns in order to ‘Be the Light’ and encourage people to get tested for HIV / AIDS.

A huge red ribbon, the national symbol of solidarity, has also been erected on Manchester Town Hall and the clock face will be turned red in support for the event.

Councillor Kevin Peel, Manchester City Council’s lead member for gay men’s issues, said: “Treatment has improved so much in recent years to the extent that if you’re diagnosed early you can expect to live just as long as someone who is HIV negative.

“But the key thing is to find out your status- and getting tested has never been easier.”

Tests can be carried out in numerous locations across the city including local hospitals, GP’s surgeries and walk-in clinics and anyone who has ever had unprotected sex is being advised to get tested.

Councillor Peel added: “You can even have a free testing kit sent to you in the post.”

The day marks the culmination of National HIV testing week which has been encouraging people, particularly people from the African and male gay or bisexual communities, to get tested.

An estimated one in four Africans who are living with HIV in the UK are undiagnosed while a third of gay or bisexual males have never been tested.

To combat this, sexual health experts in Manchester are marking the day with a campaign to ensure every toilet in the Gay Village carries information on how to get screened for the virus.

By asking ‘Do you know your HIV status?’ on specially produced urinal mats, the Sexual Health and Harm Reduction team from Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust are hoping to make a difference.

Last year there was a 7% increase in the number of HIV and AIDS cases in the North West of England.

Pete Smith, Senior Public Health Advisor with the Sexual Health and Harm Reduction Team, said: “The mats contain information on where people can get tested and it’s a great way of keeping it at the forefront of people’s minds, particularly on a night out.”

Manchester, meanwhile, has the largest number of people accessing HIV treatment in the country outside of London, according to Health Protection Agency.

Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, has also spoken out about AIDS this week and has given her support to the Stop AIDS Campaign.

She said: “It is critical that investment in HIV and AIDS is sustained so we can save millions of lives.”

Lotti Rutter, of the Stop AIDS Campaign, said: “The UK can’t stop now in its commitment to HIV and AIDS.

“We have come so far and we also have a unique opportunity now to see the epidemic sent into decline by the end of the decade.”

The procession, organised by the Manchester World AIDS Day Partnership, will also feature a candlelit vigil in Sackville Gardens to remember those who have been lost.

Young people have also been sending messages of support for people living with HIV on special postcards which will be used to decorate a ‘solidari-tree’ in Sackville Gardens.

Some of the messages offer support and hopes while others have told their personal stories of the virus.

One message reads: “I have AIDS, I am not different. Respect people with HIV.”

The project, organised by Healthy Schools Manchester and Fresh clinics, delivered HIV awareness sessions to 2,000 students in the past week through assemblies, stalls and peer education.

It aimed to inform students about the routes of transmission and dispel myths before encouraging them to reflect on how they would respond if family member was affected.

Helen Walker, a student at Manchester Health Academy, said: “Working with the Healthy Schools team has helped students to understand the effects of HIV on those in this country and across the world.”

The procession will begin at 6.30 by the Beacon of Hope – the National AIDS memorial– in Sackville Park before winding through the gay village and eventually returning to the park for a candlelit vigil.

The Manchester World AIDS Day Partnership comprises of Manchester City Council, NHS, George House Trust, Brook Manchester and The Lesbian and Gay foundation.

Log on to www.facebook.com/McrWorldAIDSDay or twitter.com/MCRWorldAIDSDay to find out more about the event.

To order a postal testing pack for HIV and syphilis go to or find your local clinic go to www.ruclear.co.uk

Picture courtesy of Manchester World AIDs Day Partnership, with thanks.

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.