As the new year opens, it’s an opportune time to reflect on how far we’ve come over the previous twelve months in the HIV/Aids sector, and what we can implement in the months ahead to impact positive change.
In many respects, 2017 represented a pivotal year in the sector. We saw some real and encouraging wins. New HIV diagnoses, for instance, dropped by an unprecedented 18 per cent, including for the very first time a drop in HIV rates among MSM (men who have sex with men). There was a drop, too, of 21 per cent in undiagnosed rates, meaning those who are living with HIV but don’t know it. Also for the first time, mortality rates became comparable between people who are diagnosed with HIV and on effective treatment, and the rest of the general population. Not least, we saw the launch of a substantive consultation on how to make Relationships and Sex Education LGBT-inclusive, which among other things should help ensure that young MSM can better learn how to maintain good sexual health.
All of this adds up to the very real prospect of our stopping HIV transmission, one of the headlines of the five-year strategy of the Terrence Higgins Trust (where I sit on the Board of Trustees). This is no longer a fanciful ambition, and we at THT are determined to be at the forefront of that effort. We’re equally determined to ensure that people living with HIV can pursue full, active and healthy lives, free from prejudice and discrimination.
Yet despite these strong strides in the right direction, we still have lots to do to in order to end HIV transmission and ensure good sexual health is a reality for all. Notwithstanding all of the advances in testing and medicines and campaigning, the many challenges of this epidemic are not yet behind us. We can’t be complacent in thinking this isn’t still a crisis.
The work ahead in 2018 will continue, and indeed intensify on multiple fronts. Urgently, we need to protect our HIV and sexual health services from cuts; reducing funding now is extraordinarily short-sighted, as it will not only have a adverse impact on individuals, but also engender much greater costs for the NHS and local authorities in the long-run. This much can’t be disputed. We need also to get more people testing, more regularly, with the aim of decreasing the numbers of late diagnoses in the UK. Building on significant momentum, improving access to PrEP will be a huge priority this year, ensuring that all those who could benefit from the NHS England PrEP trial are able to do so, including women and the trans community. Not least, there is an imperative to amplify the voices of those living with HIV, including women, who now make up a quarter of new diagnoses.
We all have a part to play in achieving these ambitions, and now more than ever we can’t afford to lose the sense of urgency and resolve. In fact, we have to double-down on our efforts, as the fight continues.
To learn about how you can help win that fight, or if you want further information on HIV and sexual health, visit the Terrence Higgins Trust website.
You can find out more about Robert here.