Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says the time has come for the UK’s political leaders to redouble their efforts in tackling the HIV epidemic among gay and bisexual men.
Speaking exclusively to PinkNews.co.uk at a reception for sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), the Liberal Democrat leader paid tribute to HIV campaigners but warned that too many people living with HIV continue to face stigma and discrimination.
Mr Clegg told PinkNews.co.uk: “Firstly we have got to celebrate what THT and other organisations have done to turn a page on that harrowing era of fear and ignorance that I think everyone can remember who lived through the eighties, wherever you lived, whoever you are.
“To see thirty years later that there are people with HIV who are living healthy and fulfilling lives is an extraordinary change – yet here is the big but: there is still stigma, there is still ignorance, there is still discrimination, it’s still difficult for people with HIV to settle happily into the work place, where there is prejudice and ignorance in the work place, and there is a genuine and very serious problem of far too many people with HIV who are not diagnosed as having HIV. “
Mr Clegg added: “By some estimates there are 22,000 people in our country who are still going undiagnosed and that is a very serious issue because it means, if you like, unwittingly they are continuing to communicate the disease and that’s why I think it’s very important that we work together to deal with that.”
Mr Clegg went on to say that raising “the profile” of HIV and countering “complacency” would all help to make sure people with the virus could “continue to live healthy, fulfilling and long lives in the future.”
When asked if greater cross-party leadership on HIV was needed, in the same way the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all worked together to legalise equal marriage in England and Wales, Mr Clegg said that it required a new “cross-party commitment”.
“I certainly think that this is something which should not in any way be disfigured by party politics,” he told PinkNews.co.uk. “I mean sometimes it requires a nudge and a lead. I think it’s in keeping with what my party has always done. If you look back at the history of THT, the then leader of my party, David Steele, was I think the first political leader to celebrate their establishment, but I think for the reasons we just talked about, the danger of complacency, the danger that some people who aren’t close to the issue feel the job is done [means] we do need to rediscover cross-party commitment in dealing with a lot of these outstanding issues.”
When asked if he would consider joining the ranks of several MPs who have undertaken HIV tests in a bid to raise awareness on World AIDS Day, Mr Clegg said to PinkNews.co.uk: “I am very, very wary that people don’t feel that with a gesture here, a press release there, that somehow you can transform this issue. Without sounding too pious about it there is a very big underlying issue: there are people who are leading lives where they are susceptible to having HIV who are undiagnosed. All of us should work together, in my view, not seeking to create a press incident of what we do personally, all of us have got to work together across party lines to make sure that diagnosis takes place early and I will do anything that people feel can help deliver that objective.”