The University of Birmingham’s iconic clock tower Old Joe and the Library of Birmingham will be turning red today (1 Dec) to mark World AIDS Day and highlight some of the ongoing research taking place at Birmingham.

World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, and it is symbolised by the red ribbons which people wear to raise awareness of the day.

Despite scientific advances in HIV treatments, over 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK. Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Although the virus was only identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

The lighting up of Old Joe for World AIDS Day was an initiative of the Rainbow Network, in collaboration with the University Equality and Diversity team.

Tom Syder, Chair of the Rainbow Network at the University of Birmingham, said: “HIV and AIDS continues to disproportionately affect LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) communities in the UK.

“I am pleased that the University has recognised World AIDS Day, a global campaign to raise awareness of the pandemic, and as a network we remain committed to supporting and promoting the work of organisations such as the National AIDS Trust who do invaluable advocacy and awareness raising about this serious issue.”

The University Hospitals Birmingham HIV Department and the Clinical Immunology Service at the University of Birmingham, in conjunction with the Whittall Street Clinic, have been carrying out vital research to prevent the spread of HIV and to support those living with the condition.

One of the effects of the HIV infection is that it reduces the ability of the body’s immune system to fight infection. Patients with HIV are particularly susceptible to certain types of bacteria and an increased risk of infections. However, there is also evidence that vaccination can be an effective way of reducing the incidence of infections in patients, and Professor Mark Drayson and Dr Alex Richter have been at the forefront of research to identify the most effective vaccines to achieve this.

Their research groups have carried out the largest vaccine study with HIV infected patients in the UK to date. Over 900 recently diagnosed HIV patients on the study received vaccines against various diseases and infections. The results showed that one vaccine in particular, Menitorix, was particularly effective, with over half of the patients achieving protection against a number of bacterial infections including Meningitis C.

Sian Faustini, PhD student in Professor Drayson’s research group, said of the group’s latest findings: “These results support the concept of early vaccination following a positive HIV diagnosis. They also suggest that vaccination with Prevenar-13 (PCV-13) has a positive impact on reducing hospital admission rates and length of stay, when compared with the vaccine, Pneumovax-23, ( PPV-23), which is currently routinely used. The findings from this study will be published in the team’s second paper - watch this space!”

For more information, please contact: Tony Moran, Interim Head of Communications on +44 (0)121 414 8254 or +44 (0)782 783 2312.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • ‘Old Joe’ is the affectionate name given to the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower located in Chancellor's Court at the University of Birmingham. It is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world.
  • The Rainbow Network aims to provide a safe and welcoming space for staff and PhD students at the University who identify as LGBT to meet, provide support on workplace welfare issues, and inform University strategy and policy regarding LGBT staff. The Network’s webpages can be found here.
  • The Menitorix vaccine was tested as part of the Assessment of Immune Responses to Routine Immunisations in HIV-infected adults (AIR) study at the University Hospitals Birmingham HIV Department, which can be contacted at https://www.uhb.nhs.uk/contact-hiv.htm. Patients enrolled on the study also received the PPV-23 vaccine against 23 strains of pneumococcus, and a low-dose diphtheria, tetanus, and polio vaccine.
  • The AIR study was an observational vaccination study that recruited over 900 HIV-infected patients. The team’s second paper will focus on the longevity of immune responses to pneumococcal vaccination over a 5-year period.
  • The PCV-13 vaccine is currently routinely used in infants, whose immune systems cannot respond to PPV-23. The results of this study indicate that PCV-13 also works better than PPV-23 in patients with impaired immune systems, whether through age or disease.