It’s only been just over three months since the national HIV Commission published its recommendations but in that short space of time there’s been a groundswell of support to turn these into action. Time is now of the essence as the Government begins the process of drafting its widely anticipated HIV Action Plan.
On World AIDS Day, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock announced that the HIV Commission’s report would be the basis for the HIV Action Plan and that it will be published in 2021. This was more than we could have hoped for, with the report still hot off the press and being turned into Government policy.
Despite this huge milestone, we haven’t rested and we’ve been holding the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure this momentum to end new cases of HIV within the decade is not lost.
Off the back of the hit television series, It’s A Sin, HIV has been discussed, examined and reported on like never before in recent years. The power of this show set during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s has resulted in the eyes of not just the media but also parliamentarians on what needs to be done in the fight against HIV here and now.
We’re already starting to see the impact of the show touching the lives of the public, with a record-breaking National HIV Testing Week where orders for HIV test kits quadrupled on the previous record. The ‘It’s A Sin effect’ forced the Government to release an additional 10,000 free HIV test kits via the Public Health England website. While over 60 MPs tested for HIV and an additional 30 sharing their support for National HIV Testing Week.
During a recent Big Tent Ideas event on HIV testing, Minister for Public Health, Jo Churchill, welcomed the Commission’s report and the ongoing campaigns of other MPs – including HIV Commissioner, Steve Brine, to ensure PrEP access in GP clinics, Elliot Colburn’s calls for PrEP to be available in pharmacies and calls from Brighton political leads to get opt-out testing across the NHS – stating the Government is in listening mode.
But there’s more. In a letter sent mid-February to the chair of the HIV Commission, Dame Inga Beale, from Churchill, the Government made some bold and exciting announcements:
- The Government will update Parliament annually on its progress towards both the 2025 goal of reducing new cases of HIV by 80% and the 2030 goal of zero new cases of HIV.
- The Government will look at ensuring progress is made in reducing new cases of HIV across ‘all demographics groups’.
- The Government will look at the setting in which ‘PrEP should be made available outside of sexual health clinics’.
These are brilliant steps forward. Recognising the importance of ensuring no groups are left behind in this fight is crucial – we know women are most likely to miss out on being offered an HIV test, while HIV infections among heterosexual Black African communities are not falling at the same rate as gay and bisexual men. Moreover, this is the first time the Government has put on the record its commitment to having PrEP available in other settings – if taken forward this could mean PrEP access in GP clinics and pharmacies.
If all of these are taken forward in the HIV Action Plan, it could put England in an excellent position to truly be a world leader and achieve zero new cases of HIV by 2030.
These next few months will be absolutely crucial as the Government begins writing the HIV Action Plan. To get there we need to keep up the pressure and ensure these words translate into meaningful change.