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Former health minister Lord Fowler says gay sex bans must be struck down to end HIV

Matilda Davies May 7, 2021
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Norman Fowler

Norman Fowler has taken up an ambassadorial role at UNAIDS. (Max Mumby/Getty)

Former British health minister Norman Fowler says scrapping gay sex bans worldwide is a necessary step in the fight against HIV.

Fowler, health minister under Margaret Thatcher and more recently, speaker of the House of Lords, announced in February he was turning his attentions to the fight against HIV.

As he takes up a new role with UNAIDS, Fowler told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that gay sex bans must be struck down if the world is to end new HIV transmissions.

He said that such bans “have a vast effect upon any population” in terms of HIV transmission because “it means they don’t come forward for testing and it means that they come forward far too late for testing”,

Fowler added: “The issue of AIDS remains a very central one, and although it may not be as evident in Europe, it certainly remains very evident in whole swathes of the world.”

Fowler has recently joined United Nations organisation UNAIDS as an ambassador, where he will focus on tackling HIV and AIDS while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

One of the three focuses of his new role is ending punitive laws against LGBT+ people. His other focuses will be ensuring unversal access to health care and ensuring girls can finish secondary school and benefit from a reduced risk of HIV.

UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement: “We can beat AIDS, but only through bold action by leaders.

“Lord Fowler is respected as a great parliamentarian and courageous leader across the world. He has delivered bold change to fight AIDS, and can help other leaders to do the same.”

Fowler said in the statement that he is “determined to see the end of AIDS, and to see the end of the inequalities that stand in the way of the end of AIDS.”

He has already voiced concerns about combatting AIDS while public health remains focused on COVID-19:

“There’s a real danger that the world is going to forget about the crisis and problem of AIDS because obviously the COVID issue is foremost in people’s minds,” he said.

“But the fact is that AIDS – in spite of all the heroic efforts that have been made over the past 20 years – remains an enormous problem.”

Fowler was secretary of state for health under Margaret Thatcher, where he oversaw the UK’s first HIV awareness programme in the 1980s.

“I’m afraid that [Thatcher] was what these days might be called a sceptic on this whole area,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Her position was quite near to a number of the religious leaders who simply said, as much as they said anything, that we should be pursuing a ‘moral’ campaign.”

Fowler voted for Section 28, the reviled law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools and by local authorities. He told Reuters: “That was a mistake, and I’ve never made any bones about that.”

Related topics: HIV, Lord Fowler, UNAIDS

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