Oxford Professor creates HIV flower garden

News University News

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

The garden’s theme, “HIV: stigma and cure”, was conceived of by Professor John Frater (University of Oxford) and Professor Sarah Fidler (Imperial College London), who jointly lead the CHERUB collaboration (Collaborative HIV Eradication of Reservoirs UK BRC).

This UK network is made up of internationally recognised doctors and researchers from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centres at Oxford, Cambridge and London, and works together with patients to find a cure for HIV infection.

The garden, created by designer Naomi Ferrett Cohen, portrays the journey of a young person who lives with HIV and explores “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”.

The thoughts and experiences of children from CHIVA (the Children’s HIV Association) growing up with HIV helped shape the garden design.

The Chelsea Flower show (held there since 1912) is internationally famous and attended by members of the Royal Family.

Although it does not have the same media exposure it used to, HIV is still a major global problem – there are 37 million people living with it, and around two million people getting infected every year (one person every 15 seconds). A child is infected every three and a half minutes.

Professor Fidler highlighted that “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”.

Moreover, Fidler stated that the first step in finding the cure for HIV “requires years of daily medication which leads to very low levels of virus in the body” and, once this is achieved, it is necessary to find new ways to try and cure it. The NIHR-supported CHERUB collaboration is working together in the search for new treatments and tests that could potentially allow people to “stop taking medication and remain free from the virus”.

The timing of the garden coincides with the results of the ‘RIVER’ trial, the first formal randomised trial exploring a possible cure for HIV infection. The results of the trial, which took place in London and the UK, will be released this summer.