If we redouble our efforts, England could be the first country to end HIV transmissions

The UK government has committed to ending new cases of HIV by 2030

12/1/2020 10:51:00 PM

The UK government has committed to ending new cases of HIV by 2030

To find the 5,900 people in England living undiagnosed with HIV, testing for HIV needs to become normalised across the NHS

"Don’t die of ignorance", potentially the most impactful public health message until "stay at home, save lives, protect the NHS", changed awareness of what is now HIV.Its power lay in fear and its legacy still informs many about the virus and fuels much of the stigma around HIV today. But a HIV diagnosis, while serious, is very different these days. Since 2014, diagnoses have fallen dramatically and due to innovation in treatment and the availability of the prevention drug PrEP, an end to new HIV transmissions is in sight.

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In 2016, Theresa May asked me to become her public health minister and suddenly I had an opportunity to make an impact on one of the issues of our age. Working with the HIV sector, Matt Hancock and I committed the government to "end new cases of HIV by 2030". A bold and ambitious goal, but, despite everything, a thoroughly achievable one.

What followed was a joint proposal – from the Secretary of State, Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation – to set up an independent commission that would develop a blueprint. Although I had left government by the time it began its work, I was honoured to be a part of it as a Commissioner under the chairmanship of Dame Inga Beale.

My job as a minister was to put this new possibility into policy. As a commission, we turned the policy into a practical plan.Today that commission reports. It recommends new targets, a focus on improved HIV testing and a call for coordinated leadership. If we are to meet the 2030 goal – or even be the first country to end new cases of HIV – we need to get diagnoses from new infections down 80 per cent by 2025. If we are to find the 5,900 people in England that are living undiagnosed with HIV, testing for HIV needs to become normalised across the NHS. That means when you present at A&E, join a GP practice or the NHS is otherwise taking a blood sample from you. It will be controversial with some but it will make all the difference and, as time is running out, we need annual reports to parliament so the progress can be measured, questioned and assessed.

Underneath these headline recommendations sits a more detailed plan. In fact, it is the most government-friendly set of actions I have ever seen. When the Government starts work on the long promised Sexual Health Strategy and HIV Action Plan, it has a simple copy and paste job from the Commission’s work. For this reason, and many others, our hope is the Government will have all this in place by summer 2021. We cannot wait any longer to get started on meeting this time-pressured goal.

In a decade that began with one pandemic, the opportunity to end not just one but two before it ends cannot be missed. With Matt Hancock at the Department for Health and Social Care and this Prime Minister in No 10, I know it will not be. Today’s report will redouble their efforts and I stand ready to help them every step of the way from the backbenches.

Long term, my hopes are that my children enter an adult world where HIV cases are a thing of the past. My grandchildren will hopefully learn about a virus that scared the world and understand how heroic patients, relentless activists, a network of HIV advocacy organisations and a series of governments – of all colours – did what it took for England to be the first country to end new cases of HIV.

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