Public Health Minister: We’re taking a new approach to tackling HIV
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison writes for PinkNews ahead of HIV Testing week, after the launch of a national scheme to provide HIV home-testing kits.
In the early days of HIV and before the introduction of effective treatment in the mid-1990s, HIV was not just a great taboo but a source of fear and pain that cut lives tragically short.
As very recent events have reminded us the stigma persists but thankfully, today, we have more cause to hope.
We have made great strides in treatment, meaning most people diagnosed today have a normal life expectancy.
People affected have bravely spoken out, shining a light on the condition and raising awareness of ways to stay safe.
We’re increasing choices on testing and 91 percent of people are receiving the care they need. Thanks to antiviral drugs, 95 percent of people have very, very low levels of the virus in their bodies, so the condition is under control. But with no cure treatment is life-long.
Although they can never bring back the friends, lovers, partners and family members lost to AIDS, these are great leaps forward but until HIV is a thing of the past, there is more to do. We cannot stand still with our approach, we need to be bold and tackle the challenge in fresh ways.
Today, we are announcing the winners of our £500,000 HIV Innovation Fund.
These seven projects will target groups at increased risk through projects like outreach clinics or giving those affected the tools they need to notify sexual partners anonymously and digitally.
We are also launching the first HIV Home Sampling Service in England. During National HIV Testing week, which begins on Saturday , the groups most at risk of HIV gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM), and black African communities – can go online and get a free home sampling kit.
This will make it easy and convenient for anyone to check their HIV status from home. We aim to deliver 50,000 kits – sign up at www.test.hiv.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison with (L) Owen Brigstock-Barron, Sexual Health Programme Manager at Public Health England, and (R) Neil Cooper of home-sampling service operators Preventx.
Sadly, we are seeing increases not just in HIV infections among gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM), but also rises in syphilis and gonorrhoea.
Figures released today show that in the UK, one in twenty MSM are HIV positive, rising to one in eleven in London.
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Around 17 percent of people with HIV are unaware of their infection, so are unable to access treatment or prevent onward transmission.
This concerning trend continues, with 3,360 new infections among MSM in 2014, an increase of 110 when compared to the number in 2013. Worryingly, risk-taking continues, with trends such as chemsex presenting new challenges.
I am determined to reverse this trend. This week, Public Health England published guidance for health services in supporting people engaging in chemsex through both addiction and sexual health services.
Meanwhile, we are continuing to work with the Terrence Higgins Trust on awareness raising, using their experienced voice within the community to drive change.
But we cannot win this fight without the community’s help. Getting tested regularly, knowing your HIV status, practising safe sex – these are all key to stopping the spread of HIV.
Jane Ellison is the Conservative MP for Battersea, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health.