UK government announces plan for zero HIV transmissions by 2030

Red ribbons raise awareness of World AIDS Day

The government of the United Kingdom is announcing a new commitment to reach zero HIV transmissions by 2030 in England.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, is making the announcement at the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), Evening Standard and Independent’s AIDSfree Cities Global Forum.

According to reports, Hancock will make the following statement: ‘So today we’re setting a new goal: eradicating HIV transmission in England by 2030. No new infections within the next decade. Becoming one of the first countries to reach the UN zero infections target by 2030.’

The Department for Health and Social Care is also going to set up an expert group dedicated to this goal.

Prevention will be the core of the plan. Another element is providing support for vulnerable groups, including gay and bisexual men, and Black African and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

According to the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), there were around 101,600 people living with HIV in the UK in 2017. From 2016, however, there was a 17% drop in new diagnoses in 2017.

Of these diagnoses, 53% were gay or bisexual men, and of heterosexual people diagnosed, 38% were black African men and women.

A ticking clock

Ian Green, Chief Executive of THT, described the announcement as a ‘seminal moment’.

‘For England to reach zero new HIV transmissions, the Department for Health & Social Care, Public Health England, alongside local authorities, must now urgently work in collaboration to address some of the most pressing HIV issues,’ he commented.

‘These include stepping up HIV testing to ensure the 8,000 people who remain undiagnosed can get onto treatment, immediately adding more places to the PrEP trial and ensuring sexual health services are properly funded. Without these actions, this commitment simply won’t be achievable.’

There is currently an ongoing trial for PrEP treatment in England. However, many clinics are filling up spots in the trial and an expansion has been delayed.

‘The clock has now started ticking towards the end of HIV transmissions in England.’

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust (NAT), reiterated Green’s statement, saying ‘action must urgently follow’ the announcement.

‘Meaningful progress to the 2030 goal will not happen whilst sexual health services creak at the seams due to continued underinvestment in public health. People are unable to access the HIV prevention drug PrEP and are now going on to acquire HIV.

‘Matt Hancock must act quickly and decisively to ensure that public health is adequately funded and PrEP available to all who need it in England.’

The problem of Brexit

If the government continues its path towards Brexit, however, this plan could become compromised.

Most of the UK’s PrEP supply is believed to be privately imported from the European Union (EU). Therefore, if Brexit goes forward, this supply of PrEP is not guaranteed past 29 March.

Other HIV drugs and scientific healthcare research will also be affected and limited by Brexit.

See also

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Author: Anya Crittenton

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NHS England announces support for doubling PrEP trial

A man holds a PrEP (Truvada) pill to prevent acquiring HIV

NHS England announced on Friday (11 January) its support for a request from researchers leading the PrEP IMPACT Trial. The request asks for the trial to double its places. This would give 26,000 people access to the life-saving pill, compared to the former 13,000 people.

The Programme Oversight Board will make the final decision regarding this request next Tuesday (15 January). It is a critical step forward, despite the lack of a final decision.

Over 40 clinics are participating in the trial. Prior to this doubling, they were having to turn away gay and bisexual men.

‘The original 10,000 places were never going to be enough and since it started the trial has already had to be expanded from 10,000 to 13,000 places,’ explained Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust.

She also stressed the importance of the decision to double: ‘Without an expansion, it’s likely all the places for gay and bisexual men will be taken imminently. That coupled with reports of people becoming infected with HIV after being unable to access PrEP via the trial is why we and other HIV campaigners have been shouting about this so loudly.’

People without HIV take PrEP, a single pill, daily. Its continuous intake can help drastically lower the chance of infection.

‘While today’s statement from NHS England is definitely a step in the right direction, the long fight for PrEP to be available on the NHS in England isn’t over yet,’ she added.

PrEP needs to be more accessible

Matthew Hodson, the Executive Director at NAM, also responded to NHS England’s support.

‘Reports suggest that some men who were turned away have subsequently acquired HIV, meaning that they now face a lifetime of HIV treatment,’ he said, reiterating Laycock’s comments.

‘For this reason, I welcome the proposal to double the number of places available on the trial.’

NAM is an organization and charity providing accurate and up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS.

Hodson acknowledged the need for funding to double the trial. He stressed, however, that if England is ‘serious about halting new HIV infections in this country we should ensure that all people at high risk of acquiring HIV should be aware of PrEP, should be offered it and should be able to access it if they so choose’.

Access to healthcare is a critical right for LGBTI people worldwide, and PrEP is an important part of that.

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Half of those living with HIV have experienced discrimination when dating

depression

Half of the people living with HIV (50%) have faced discrimination due to their status, a new survey reveals.

Despite the medical progress that’s been made over the last 30 years, which now means that people with the virus can live as long and healthily as anybody else, the stigma is still alive.

UK charity Terrence Higgins Trust has shed a light on the extent to which discrimination can affect people living with HIV. They surveyed 1,350 people living with HIV in the UK.

54% had experienced discrimination in relationships

On World AIDS Day, celebrated today (1 December), THT highlighted how discrimination impact the lives of those living with HIV.

More than half of those surveyed (54%) had experienced discrimination in dating and relationships.

Furthermore, more than one quarter (27%) had experienced discrimination from friends. Almost one fifth (18%) had experienced discrimination from family members.

34% and 30% have been discriminated against when accessing public healthcare services and in the workplace respectively.

The consequences of such discrimination have affected those living with HIV. 60% has revealed it had impacted their mental health and self-worth.

More than half of the respondents have also revealed they are afraid to talk openly to family members and partners.

The UK has achieved its target

‘We now have the tools to end HIV transmission here in the UK – a combination of regular testing, PrEP, condoms and treatment as prevention – and it’s vital we continue to ensure people are aware of those tools, know how and are able to access them,’ said Ian Green, chief executive of THT.

Leading up to World AIDS Day, Public Health England has revealed the UK has achieved its target of 90:90:90. It did so a whole year ahead of when it originally aimed to do so, that is in 2020.

This means that 92% of people living with HIV in the UK are diagnosed. Moreover, 98% of those people are on treatment and 97% of those have an undetectable viral load, which means they can’t pass on HIV.

‘However, as ending HIV transmissions in the UK becomes a reality,’ continued Green, ‘we must support those living with the virus to thrive, and end the stigma they face. We must not just focus our efforts on reaching zero transmissions, but also zero stigma.’

What’s next?

‘We’re proud that London has achieved the UNAIDS 90:90:90 targets. However, the “Is HIV Sorted?”‘ survey results demonstrate that we cannot be complacent,’ said Professor Jane Anderson. Anderson is co-chair of Fast Track Cities Initiative Leadership Group.

The International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) and Gilead Sciences conducted the survey.

A significant proportion of respondents (71% in the UK, 67% in London) would not feel comfortable dating someone who is living with HIV.

Moreover, one-fifth (22%) of respondents would not feel comfortable working with a person living with HIV. Nearly half of those surveyed (45% in the UK, 43% in London) believe that PLHIV should not work as healthcare professionals.

While many are still unaware of about the realities of HIV treatment and secondary transmission, only 41% of respondents across the UK believe that HIV-related stigma is ‘a thing of the past’ in the UK.

‘It is evident from this data that we must not allow HIV to be deprioritized,’ continued Professor Anderson.

‘Education and awareness-raising efforts across the UK must be prioritized to ensure the public are well informed about HIV and understand the issue of HIV-related stigma so we can work together to tackle the significant challenges that still remain in HIV prevention, diagnosis, and care.’

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