Within hours of being published, the new report was becoming Government policy – a truly remarkable achievement
Tuesday 1 December 2020 will go down in history as a seminal moment in the fight against HIV in England. Following 18 months of hard work, evidence gathering and hundreds of people sharing their expertise and experiences, the HIV Commission published its findings and recommendations, providing a blueprint for making the goal to end new transmissions in England by 2030 a reality. The message was clear – Implement these recommendations and England could be the first country to end new HIV cases.
In the last few years HIV organisations, including those supporting the HIV Commission – Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation – have turned a new scientific possibility into government policy. In just a year, the commission has turned this policy in to a practical plan.
You will have seen that hot on the heels of the main COVID-19 story of the day, was not just World AIDS Day but the HIV Commission report and its findings: that England could be the first country to end new cases; a new target to reduce new cases of HIV by 80% by 2025, annual reporting of progress to parliament; and, crucially to normalise HIV testing across the NHS.
You could not move for media coverage. Pick an outlet – whether it was BBC News, Channel 4 or Sky through to the Daily Mirror, The Times and Daily Telegraph. Spokespeople from the HIV Commission were on television, radio and in print. There was a diversity of viewpoints to the coverage – see Mercy Shibemba, Chamut Kifetew, Florence Eshalomi MP, Trevor Banthorpe, and this brilliant interview on PinkNews. Plus MPs from all parties: Alex Norris MP, Stephen Doughty MP, Dr Ben Spencer MP. Even The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, warmly welcomed the recommendations to help achieve the 2030 goal, saying ‘for the first time there is vision and clarity on how we can get there’.
And what was great is our message was heard in the corridors of power.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP backed our vision of ending new cases of HIV before the decade is out.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak MP went even further and endorsed the commission report on the floor of the House of Commons. Almost unheard of.
At the launch event the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove MP spoke and promised annual reporting to parliament on the 2030 goal, interim targets and the chance of England being the first nation to achieve this.
Then the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP went one better and accepted our needs for new targets – to reduce new cases of HIV by 80% by 2025 – and promised to work together to increase HIV testing.
Lord Bethell, Health Minister in the House of Lords, said the Department for Health and Social Care would look into ‘normalising testing’..
The day ended with a debate in parliament organised by commissioners Steve Brine MP (Conservative) and Wes Streeting MP (Labour). The Secretary of State, in an almost unheard of move decided to appear personally for this backbench debate and returned to make yet another commitment: that the HIV Commission would be the basis of a HIV Action Plan available ‘as early next year as is feasible to ensure that the work is high-quality, can be delivered and can set us fair on a credible path to zero new transmissions in 2030’.
The words of the commission were turned into government policy within a matter of hours of being published, a truly remarkable achievement.
The support was cross party. Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer MP joined the launch and gave his backing to the commission and its recommendations. As did Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey MP.
This is better than anyone of us hoped for.
As ever, the hard work starts now. Words need to become deeds. Help us now.
The 32nd World AIDS Day is a timely reminder of the strength there is in HIV organisations, supporters, and people living with HIV, coming together with one collective voice. History was made and lives can now be changed as a result.