PEOPLE across St Helens gathered at the World of Glass last week to showcase a "thought-provoking" exhibition on HIV and educate residents about the disease on World Aids Day.

The showcase featured work submitted from residents from across the region, which which aimed to focus on breaking down the stigma of HIV and shine a light on how medical advances have enabled the condition to no longer be a life threatening illness.

As the aids epidemic took hold over the country in the early 1980s, people were originally unaware why otherwise healthy people were dying with a collapse of their immune systems.

However, as the disease became to be heavily associated with gay people, homophobia became a rampant problem in some sections of society - as depicted in the recent Channel 4 series 'It's A Sin'.

It has taken a while for the stigma of Aids and homosexuality to gradually decrease, and while this is by no means over, the 'HIV in the Future' project, ran by St Helens Sexual Health Service, is a project designed to shine further light on the disease and continue breaking down this stigma.

Schools, colleges and the wider community were encouraged to contribute work, with some in the exhibition featuring the message U=U which means undetectable = untransmittable. This highlights that someone living with and being treated for HIV with an undetectable viral load can’t pass on the virus to others.

The winning artwork was ‘Don’t Hide Away’ and was presented with an award by Councillor Robyn Hattersley from St Helens Borough Council, at the special showcase event at The World of Glass - where the exhibition featuring entries is currently on show.

Local performing arts collective MD Creatives were also present at the event, performing their interpretation of HIV in the future through the medium of dance.

Councillor Anthony Burns, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Culture and Heritage, said: “This year is the 40th anniversary of the first recorded HIV illnesses and AIDs related deaths but thanks to the advances in HIV medicine, it is an easy to treat condition and now 97 per cent of those on effective treatment unable to pass it on.

"The stigma that people with HIV have received is unfair and unjust, it also acts as a barrier to people getting tested and finding out their status so we all have a role to play in raising awareness of the U = U message; someone on effective treatment with an undetectable viral load cannot pass on the virus. This is known as undetectable = untransmittable or U=U.

Councillor Hattersley added: “It was an honour to present the winning artwork with it’s very well-deserved award. It’s vital that through projects like this we continue to raise the issue that education on HIV will help us to combat stigma and encourage people to come forward to get tested.”