HIV support services are a vital resource for people living with HIV. Research around the world has demonstrated the positive impact these services have on people's health and wellbeing. Despite this, funding for HIV support is rapidly being cut.
Services in the UK have been shrinking in recent years, a result of austerity and the removal of the ring-fence that used to protect funding for HIV support. In response to this, a coalition of charities has launched the campaign Stop HIV Cuts, which Sophia Forum (a charity for which I am a trustee) supports, as I discussed in a previous blog.
The impact of cuts is significant and growing. Support services are vanishing and more cuts are planned. Research by Drew Dalton at the University of Sunderland found that 40% of HIV organisations had faced an overall loss in their income and had to cut paid staff roles. Organisations also anticipated a third of their projects would close in the coming year.
Across the country, whole organisations such as ABPlus in Birmingham are closing down, while others are facing closure and many organisations are cutting staff and services. Smaller and community-based organisations have particularly suffered.
Sophia Forum, as the only UK organisation focused on women and HIV, has witnessed the impact this loss in services has on women living with HIV. As HIV continues to be a stigmatised condition, HIV-specific services are vital to allow people to access information and support, as well as social support from other people living with HIV.
This is compounded by the wider impact of austerity which has particularly affected women, especially BME women, who might be dealing with changes in benefits, coping with the immigration system and loss of other specific services such as those for women who have experienced violence. Many women living with HIV do experience violence (a study at a London HIV clinic found 52% of women had experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime).
Last week, I was invited onto the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC News along with other advocates, to discuss the impact of cuts to HIV funding. You can watch the whole segment here (from 1 hour 25 minutes) or this short clip. We discussed the devastating effect that losing support services has, and the extraordinary and even lifesaving role that HIV support can provide. These services are not expensive to run, and by preventing further health problems and other challenges, can actually save money for the NHS and local authorities. Cutting HIV support is detrimental in every respect.
In my PhD research at the University of Greenwich I have been speaking to older women living with HIV in London, who have described services closing down or becoming harder to access, and the isolation and loneliness they now experience as a result. One woman living with HIV in her early fifties told me:
"There used to be one [support group] but now, these days, because of the cuts you cannot get funds, funding, and it is putting us down because we don't meet anymore, we are just locked indoors. We don't socialise, there is no way we can meet men, unless if we go in those groups so you just, you know, like we are just waiting to die. No life. Just eating, going to the toilet and that's it. Very, very depressed."
No one should feel this isolated, and no one should see the essential services they need cut to balance the books. Please join the campaign at http://www.stophivcuts.org/