When I was asked to chair the HIV Commission tasked with recommendations for making England the first country in the world to end new HIV cases by 2030, I wanted to know two things.
One, is it doable? And two, is it worth doing?
Over the past 15 months, my questions have been resoundingly answered. Incredible advances in medical science mean that this ambitious goal is indeed achievable. And while treatment options that would once have been considered miraculous mean that an HIV diagnosis is no longer the sentence it once was, the impact of this virus on individuals’ lives as well as the cost to the NHS means that abolishing new cases is absolutely worth doing.
Today, on World AIDS Day, my fellow commissioners and I are proud to reveal the “how” for making England the first country in the world to hit this important milestone. Our recommendations are based on meticulous research, comprehensive evidence, and powerful conversations with experts, activists and those directly impacted by HIV — as well as with many people who tick all three of those boxes.
Before this all started, I knew you could live well with HIV these days, and that treatment was available. But I was unaware of the sheer speed of progress in preventing, testing for and treating HIV. I didn’t know, for example, that you can test at home and receive a rapid result like a pregnancy test, or that those diagnosed with HIV and on effective treatment don’t run the risk of passing the virus on to partners.
As I said: the goal of no new cases is an achievable one.
In terms of specifics, one of our key recommendations is fully grounded in common sense: test, test, test.
We are therefore calling on the government to make HIV testing the norm across all of our healthcare systems, for everyone — no matter your gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or where you are in the country. We want to see HIV testing offered in more places more often, including when registering for a doctor, in the local pharmacy, and at cervical screenings. Whenever blood is taken, we should be offering HIV testing too.
We know this approach works. In maternity care, almost 100 per cent of expectant mothers are screened for HIV, and as a result almost no babies are born with the virus in England. Now let’s scale that up across healthcare.
Our other recommendations sit across a range of areas, including tackling stigma, discrimination and health inequalities, as well as leadership and resources. We also have recommendations around embedding innovation, which is fundamental with the fight against another virus — the new coronavirus that has upended our lives this year — as the backdrop to our work.
Our recommendations have the backing of the country’s leading HIV charities Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation, which established the Commission. They are already doing the work with decision-makers to get the urgent response we need. Now it’s over to the government to act.
Because the 2030 goal isn’t a pipedream or a neat social media-friendly hashtag. It’s doable, it’s worth doing, and it must be done. The government must read our work, respond to our recommendation, and implement them.
Anything above zero new HIV cases by 2030 is failure.
Main image credit: Getty