Green Party’s Alexandra Phillips: Stamp out HIV stigma by electing politicians who ‘genuinely care’ about LGBT issues
Alexandra Phillips is a Green Party MEP, mayor of Brighton and Hove, a proud member of the LGBT+ community, and has formerly worked at the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Today, our community is coming together across the world to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS, and to raise awareness for continued efforts to bring down rates of HIV.
This is an opportunity to stop and take stock of how far we’ve come as a community on battling this condition, reducing stigma, and indeed fighting discrimination.
But it is also a sobering moment to reflect on those who lost their lives because of this illness, and the discrimination in our society that meant that so many of them were left isolated and alone in their time of need.
It’s a time to remind people up and down the country that getting tested is quick, easy, and free; and that it saves lives.
While we’re moving in the right direction, with new HIV diagnoses falling for a third consecutive year, Public Health England (PHE) warns that 43% of these diagnoses were made late. They stress that those with late diagnoses face a ten-fold increased risk of short-term mortality.
This is a stark reminder of the fact that while rates are going down, HIV remains a serious health condition.
The best way to combat this is through frequent testing.
We need to make testing a routine part of our health; let’s reduce the stigma by having testing points in public places: libraries, community centres, council buildings. We need to stamp out this stigma wherever we find it.
The Terrence Higgins Trust has done fantastic work putting HIV testing on the national agenda; thirty years ago, who would have thought they’d have a Prince meeting with a gay, HIV-positive rugby star, advertising testing in a stadium. We’re making strides in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go at home and across Europe.
Brighton and Hove, where I am a councillor, has the 7th highest HIV diagnosis rate in England, and the highest outside of London.
In efforts to combat this, we became the first UK city to commit to a target of eliminating new diagnoses, stigma and HIV-related deaths by 2030 as part of the ‘United Nations Fast Track City’ initiative. This calls for an increase in HIV support and prevention work.
And we’ve still got a long way to go in combating the stigma surrounding HIV diagnoses; a council study in Brighton and Hove found that almost a quarter of people questioned as part of a stigma survey in the South East of England said they had faced verbal abuse as a result of their HIV diagnosis.
People need to understand that HIV, because of testing and treatment, is, by and large, no longer the same illness it was 30 years ago.
While Brighton and Hove has one of the highest rates of diagnoses, a very low proportion of these diagnoses are reported late. This means that here, on the whole, people are getting tested fast enough to get onto treatment meaning that they can lead normal lives.
We now know that when on effective treatment, people living with HIV are unable to pass it on. We have come so far in responding to this sophisticated disease, but stigma still exists, and people need to understand that HIV, because of testing and treatment, is, by and large, no longer the same illness it was 30 years ago.
We must all rise to the challenge of meeting the 2030 targets set out by the United Nations, but there needs to be political will behind it.
As ever, we need better education surrounding HIV; governments need to implement not only comprehensive, LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), but also make PrEP available on the NHS.
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I believe passionately that RSE is essential for the creation of a positive and respectful approach towards sexuality, sexual relationships and other relationships. It empowers children and teenagers, and is a crucial and indispensable tool to transform harmful gender norms, and fight against gender-based violence, transphobia, homophobia, gender stereotypes and sexism.
We need to be electing politicians who genuinely care and understand the problems still facing our community, not Prime Ministers who refer to gay men as ‘tank-topped bum boys.’
We need to be talking about HIV today, and every day in order to combat the stigma surrounding it.
And crucially, we all need to get tested.
How to get tested: At a local sexual health clinic, at local GP, or even take a test yourself at home.