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While it’s hard to believe that it’s nearly that time of year once again, when households across the country dress up as their favourite Eurovision stars, put up the bunting and brush up on their French numbers, the 2018 contest is now firmly on the horizon.

And after what feels like an eternal winter here in the UK, this it absolutely can’t come soon enough.

Over the decades, Eurovision has been an incredible force for good in showcasing the wonderful diversity within our relatively small continent – and among our Aussie cousins – to a global viewership.

Numerous queer performers have taken to the stage, loudly and proudly telling the world who they are.

This couldn’t be truer for Austrian powerhouse and drag queen Conchita Wurst, who brought shivers to millions of us in 2013, when proudly shouting “together we are unstoppable” as she was crowned winner.

Last month, Wurst took to Instagram to let the world know that she is living with HIV, a decision she made as an ex partner had threatened to ‘out’ her.

While the circumstances surrounding her status demonstrate the extent of stigma that HIV still faces in Europe, Conchita nonetheless delivered an empowering message to millions of people who were listening:

People living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on.

Despite the fact this message is simple and concise, there are still so many people across Europe who aren’t aware of it, and know very little about HIV in Europe at all.

According to the most up to date statistics by the European Centre for Disease Prevention (ECDC) and Control, there were more than 160,000 people in Europe diagnosed with HIV in 2016.

This was the highest ever number of diagnoses in a single year, of which more than 100,000 alone came from Russia.

ECDC also found that more than 50 per cent of people living with HIV in Europe were diagnosed late, which can result in further complications for people, and could mean they are unknowingly transmitting the virus to sexual partners.

Across Europe, there have been significant improvements in the availability of HIV treatment and prevention, but these massively differ between countries.

Taking some of the frontrunners to win this year’s contest, for example, you can see the difference in terms of the progress that’s been made in the fight against HIV.

In Israel, while the number of people living with HIV is more than 10,000, approximately 26 per cent of people do not know their status.

France, which was the first European country to approve the use of HIV prevention drug pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in 2015, however so far has enrolled fewer than 7,000 people onto the drug.

In Norway, there was only a decline of one HIV diagnosis in 2016 to that in the previous year.

Here in the UK, we’ve made big strides in reducing HIV infections, with an 18 per cent overall decline in new cases of HIV, with 22 per cent decline among gay and bi men.

For the first time ever, international HIV targets were met in London, with 90 per cent of people living with HIV diagnosed and knowing their status.

However, progress is far from complete.

Around 12 per cent of people living with HIV in the UK still don’t know their status, and access to PrEP in England remains inconsistent due to a capped national trial.

The age at which people are diagnosed with HIV is also on the increase, with people aged over 50 now accounting for over one-third of those accessing HIV treatment and care.

Terrence Higgins Trust is doing everything we can to end HIV transmission in the UK, and to ensure people living with HIV can live well.

Written by Liam Beattie, of the Terrence Higgins Trust policy team.

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