Stepping up efforts to tackle HIV

Councils and charities have played a central role in reducing transmission of the virus.

After 40 years of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affecting often the most marginalised in our communities, it is within our grasp to end transmission within the next 10 years. 

Local communities, charities and councils have played a central role in this progress. 

This has helped to turn the tide on HIV with a decline in new cases since 2015, including a remarkable fall of 47 per cent among gay and bisexual men in this period. 

But we can’t stop now. 

Last year, the independent HIV Commission, supported by the Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation, set out a blueprint for how England could end new HIV transmission by 2030. 

This ambitious but achievable target was set by the Government with an interim commitment to reduce new cases by 80 per cent by 2025.

This target is undeniably attainable. We now have HIV treatment that reduces the virus to such low levels that it cannot be passed on to others sexually (known as ‘undetectable = untransmittable’, or U=U). 

We have the highly effective HIV prevention intervention PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which is now routinely available in sexual health services, supported by local councils.  And we have an increasing number of options to test for HIV including self-tests. 

Put simply, we have the tools to end HIV transmission. 

The HIV Commission set the roadmap on where our efforts should be focused. The Government has promised to consider the commission’s recommendations within its national HIV Action Plan – due to be published imminently. 

This action plan must focus on how collectively we can work together to tackle HIV cases and ensure people living with HIV are supported to thrive. 

Within local government, we must continue to lead the way – providing world-class sexual health services that embrace innovation and are accessible to all who need them. 

As HIV charities, we will continue to work with communities to design and deliver campaigns and services, and agitate to ensure that progress continues to be made – for all. 

But reaching the 2030 goal will need a whole system approach. The NHS must play its role – ensuring that opt-out HIV testing is available in secondary care in high HIV incidence areas and supporting the roll out of HIV testing and PrEP provision in primary care. 

National government must step up and ensure it is fully funding efforts to meet the 2030 goal. 

From supporting the delivery of relationships and sex education lessons in schools to supporting ‘chemsex’ services in clinics – councils can lead the way, but we need the broader system to play its part. 

The next step for local councils is to look again at local plans to tackle HIV. Are we using all the tools we have at our disposal? How accessible is HIV testing? Is year-round at-home HIV testing available? 

Who could benefit from PrEP but is currently missing out? Are we maximising the potential reach that local charities have? Are any local communities falling behind in progress made on HIV? 

A local HIV action plan must have equity front and centre – no community should be left behind.

As local government and charities we will play our part. Together we can end HIV. 

Author

The Terrence Higgins Trust is the largest voluntary provider of HIV and sexual health services in the UK, see www.tht.org.uk. World AIDS Day took place on 1 December

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