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HIV researchers create Chelsea garden to raise awareness of disease stigma

Scientists and designers have teamed up with young people living with HIV to create a garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The garden aims to highlight the successes and challenges still faced by young people living with HIV.

The theme of the garden is ‘HIV: Stigma and Cure’. It was conceived by Professor John Frater from the University of Oxford and Professor Sarah Fidler from Imperial, who jointly lead the CHERUB collaboration(Collaborative HIV Eradication of Reservoirs UK BRC) – a UK network of internationally recognised doctors and researchers from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centres at Oxford, Cambridge and London working together with patients to find a cure for HIV infection.

Created by designer Naomi Ferrett Cohen, this is the first show-garden she has created since graduating from London College of Garden Design. It charts the journey of a young person living with HIV, exploring the stigma and marginalisation they may encounter along their journey from the safety and protection of attending an NHS clinic, towards a normal life of acceptance and freedom. Young people from CHIVA (the Children’s HIV Association) were involved in the design of the garden, sharing their thoughts and experiences of growing up with HIV.

The timing of the garden also coincides with imminent results from the ‘RIVER’ trial – the first formal randomised trial exploring a possible cure for HIV infection. Results will be released in Spring 2018.

Professor John Frater said: “HIV remains a major global problem even though it is much less in the news. There are 37 million people living with HIV, and around two million people get infected every year – that’s one person every 15 seconds of every minute of every day. A child is infected every three and a half minutes.

“Despite the dramatic success of HIV treatment, which has changed HIV from being a death sentence into a manageable but lifelong condition, there’s still an enormous amount of HIV-associated stigma. Coming to terms with HIV-related stigma is a key part of helping all people living with HIV to live a healthy life and to take their daily medication. Which is something we wanted to highlight through this garden”.

Professor Sarah Fidler said: “The first important step towards finding a cure for HIV requires years of daily HIV medication which leads to very low levels of virus in the body. Once this has been achieved, we are searching for new ways to try and cure HIV. The NIHR-supported CHERUB collaboration is working together to look for new treatments and tests that might allow people to stop their medicines and remain free from the virus.”

Further information is available here.

Images: Naomi Ferrett-Cohen

  • Professor Sarah Fidler
    Professor Sarah Fidler
    Professor of HIV medicine
  • NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre
  • NIHR UCL Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre