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To be the first nation to end HIV transmissions, we must end inequalities

4 min read

The reduction in HIV transmission is a UK success story and the Government’s HIV Action Plan aim to end transmissions by 2030 is an ambition to be lauded.

There has been a 35% reduction in new HIV diagnoses in England between 2014 and 2019. Treatment means that someone living with HIV now can expect to live as long as anyone else, and not pass the virus on. This progress should be recognised and celebrated.

However, this is no time for complacency. The recent HIV and Quality of Life report from the APPG on HIV and AIDS that I proudly co-chair reminds us that it’s not enough to only  concentrate on prolonging the lives of people living with HIV, we must also ensure that those lives are healthy, happy and fulfilled. This challenge is all the more important given recent data which highlights stark and persistent inequalities in HIV, particularly for race and gender.

Last month, I was pleased to chair an event in Parliament focussed on inequalities and quality of life. It was convened by the HIV/AIDS APPG in conjunction with HIV Outcomes UK, a project led by National AIDS Trust. This included a presentation on the recent Positive Voices 2022 report from the UK Health Security Agency and University College London. This is the largest UK survey of people living with HIV, offering important insights into the way HIV impacts communities and it is a key resource to inform Government policy-making.

Encouragingly, the report highlights that people living with HIV continue to have a high level of satisfaction with their HIV care service and treatment. However, inequalities mean that this is not an even picture. For example, more than half of people living with HIV do not routinely have enough money to easily cover their basic needs. 2 in 5 of people living with HIV have also been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition, substantially higher than the general population. This adds further evidence to something we have long-known: that underserved communities, including trans people, face barriers in realising their right to health.

The data from Positive Voices highlights the importance of ensuring that we address inequalities and support all communities to live well with HIV. It is vital that people are connected to HIV treatment and care in a way that works for them, and there should be a greater emphasis on interventions that improve someone’s quality of life. We know that those who access peer support from others living with HIV often face better outcomes, and improving availability to this must be made a priority.

Responding to the clear inequalities shown in the research is not only essential to improve the lives of those with HIV, it also impacts on whether the Government’s target to end HIV transmissions by 2030 can be realised. Whilst the findings provide essential insights to those accessing HIV care, speakers at our event highlighted that Government policy making must be responsive to those it does not reach. These include people who do not know their HIV status and those who have disengaged from HIV care. Given that there could be over 10,000 people in the UK with diagnosed HIV not accessing any care, programmes are urgently needed to find, re-engage and support everyone living with HIV.

The Government’s HIV Action Plan is due to be updated in 2025. It provides an opportunity to respond to the holistic and changing needs of people living with HIV. Whoever wins the next election, a refreshed HIV Action Plan to end new transmissions and support living well with HIV will be needed. I’m proud that Labour have committed to this, and I will keep pushing to ensure it remains high on the list of cross-party priorities.

The HIV/AIDS APPG was pleased to partner with HIV Outcomes UK at our recent meeting. With the National AIDS Trust providing the secretariat, HIV Outcomes is a coalition of HIV experts working to secure changes that improve the health-related quality of life for people living with HIV in the UK.

The history of the HIV response shows what is possible. Working in partnership with communities, parliamentarians have played a key role in securing the transformational progress to date. But to ensure we do not lose the opportunity of being the first nation to end new HIV transmissions, the Government must accelerate work to end inequalities. Through this, we can make sure that everyone living with HIV not merely survives, but thrives.

Florence Eshalomi is the Member of Parliament for Vauxhall and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on HIV & AIDS

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