“Ahead of World AIDS Day tomorrow, I want to send my thoughts, my support and my best wishes to everyone who is affected by HIV and AIDS and working to tackle these challenges. Despite all the progress that has been made in preventing the spread of HIV, more than two million people with AIDS are still dying every year – that’s roughly one person every 15 seconds. So we should take this opportunity to think about the pain that so many people are going through, and start some fresh thinking about how we can finally beat this disease.
“First, we need an effective global AIDS strategy. Across the world, there are 33 million people living with HIV. And for every two people who start to receive treatment, five more people are newly diagnosed. So we need effective action to deliver universal access to AIDS prevention, treatment and care. And this is one of the reasons why I’ve said that we must stand by our pledge to increase international aid. I will never forget going to an AIDS clinic in Africa and watching drugs being given out which really would save people’s lives. So I’m proud that my party will support and expand this treatment by working with charities, international organisations, private companies and individual countries and by ensuring that every pound of British aid spent on HIV and AIDS in poor countries is used effectively.
“But it’s also important to remember that tackling HIV isn’t just a development issue. In Britain, sexually transmitted diseases are rising, and around 80,000 people have HIV. And what is really worrying is that a quarter of them don’t even know they’ve got the virus. It should be as easy as possible for people to be tested for all sexually transmitted diseases – including HIV. In America, people often get their STI tests at local pharmacists, which often have more convenient locations and opening hours than sexual health clinics. Similarly in the UK, pharmacies play a key role in diagnosing STIs, but we need to look at how this can be extended so that more people who contract HIV can be diagnosed quickly and easily. But beating AIDS in Britain isn’t just about more testing.
“We need to stop the spread of the virus – and that means raising people’s awareness of HIV. When HIV became a big issue in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s government organised a massive public awareness campaign. Millions of people watched the tombstone adverts and read the leaflets warning them not to “die of ignorance”. Some people said the adverts were scary – but they helped us to stop the spread of HIV. Today, we again need a big push to change people’s attitudes. We need to get rid of the myths and the stigmas and the discrimination which all too often are associated with HIV. And through our plans to ring-fence public health spending, and to lead, educate and inform people about the health choices they make, we can really focus on fighting the big public health challenges this country faces and stop the spread of HIV.
“So today, I’d like to thank everyone who is working to prevent and treat this virus. I know with your support, your expertise and your leadership, we can win this battle… and make this the generation which turns the tide against AIDs and HIV.”