This World AIDs Day we have the opportunity to set ourselves an ambitious but achievable target: to end the transmission of HIV in England by 2030. Published today, the HIV Commission has outlined 20 measures necessary to achieve this worthy goal.
As Liberal Democrats we have a responsibility to help make sure that we achieve it.
Many do not have up to date knowledge of HIV - risking that HIV indicators go unnoticed, and fuelling concerns among people living with HIV, who may as a result avoid health services altogether
Since 2014 new HIV diagnoses are down by as much as half (2019 data). And the development of PrEP has meant that we have more tools in our arsenal than ever before. After nearly a year of lockdown and restrictions, new cases may be down even further.
But there are still a number of challenges: from delayed PrEP rollout, to COVID-hit local authority budgets, to persisting stigma. This stigma is not just among the public, but among health professionals as well. Many do not have up to date knowledge of HIV - risking that HIV indicators go unnoticed, and fuelling concerns among people living with HIV, who may as a result avoid health services altogether.
There are bright spots however. For example, in Southwark (which along with Lambeth has one of the highest HIV rates in the country) Liberal Democrats helped make sure that PrEP rollout would begin in October. Providers like Sexual Health London are also showing the way with at home testing - something we could hope to see much more of.
So what needs to be done?
Firstly, the report recommends the adoption of a crucial milestone: an 80% reduction in transmissions by 2025, leading to the end of transmissions by 2030. This would be an historic achievement and we should urge the Government to adopt it - making particular departments responsible and accountable for it. In Parliament we will need to push for the Government to produce a roadmap, and to report back regularly.
Where we are in local government, we should work with experts to produce local roadmaps and demonstrate the leadership needed. We must not let HIV fall off the national agenda.
Testing is a key priority. In the context of COVID, the public have heard more about testing than ever before! We should encourage the application of this mentality to HIV as well. In order to find the estimated 6,000 undiagnosed people living with HIV in England, testing must be normalised. Whether it’s by taking part in testing or promoting campaigns like HIV Testing Week - we need to help make sure everyone knows their HIV status, and that access to testing is easy and equitable.
In the spirit of more testing we can also call for an important change: making HIV testing opt-out rather than opt-in.
Just like Liberal Democrats called for with organ donation back in 2002, by changing the ‘default’ we can make a massive impact. There is no ‘neutral’ default here. People can still say no - but by making it the default and the norm we can tackle stigma and help equip people with more information about their health.
We have already seen in maternity units how transformative this subtle change is. By switching to default ‘opt in’ midwifery services have reportedly almost entirely eliminated ‘vertical transmissions’ to children.
The opportunity to end transmission of HIV is one we cannot miss
As the Commission’s report says: “if we get this right… England will stand tall as a global pioneer” by ending “a five decade-long pandemic”. The opportunity to end transmission of HIV is one we cannot miss. We must urge the government to adopt a roadmap, must push to keep HIV on the agenda, and must demand the changes we need to see at every level.
We can end transmission of HIV by 2030 - but only if the Government, local authorities and society get it right.
You can read more at hivcommission.org.uk.
LGBT+ Liberal Democrats and the Lib Dem Health and Care Association