HIV and World AIDS Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:16 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown 3:16 pm, 29th November 2018

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, and I totally agree with him. There are some countries in the world I may now struggle to travel to because of this announcement. It is important that we continue to make international efforts. I do not have time to talk about all the international aspects here. I commend the work of the HIV/AIDS Alliance and plan to come back to this House in future months to talk about its ENDAIDS 2030 Festival, which is really important.

Turning back to the UK, it is the case not just that HIV is treatable, but that it is preventable with one tablet a day. A person can prevent themselves from contracting HIV with pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is revolutionising the fight against HIV transmissions. It has an almost 100% success rate, a higher rate than condoms, in the prevention of HIV, and it is just one pill. We expect this pill to be soon available as a generic drug and, according to the NHS’s own analysis, it could save the health service £1 billion in preventing HIV transmissions for future generations. Astoundingly, however, the only way to access PrEP in England is through a limited trial. This is not a medical trial—those have been done and approved. This is not about financing—we know the cost. This trial, as far as I can see, is about delaying the roll-out of PrEP in England because someone meddling in the Ministry thinks that they know better than doctors when it comes to people’s health. It seems to me that this trial is more concerned about what a person does between the sheets than the health of the nation. Despite being just one year into this three-year trial, 3,000 additional places have already had to be added, and it looks like the 13,000 places will run out early next year. England now lags behind all the other nations in the UK as the only country with capped PrEP access on the NHS. There are two years to go until this trial ends, yet people cannot get immediate access to PrEP, with many clinics now having long waiting lists, and some completely full.

We know that there are cases of young men who have sought out this prevention pill and have been turned away because the clinics cannot accommodate them, and they have subsequently become HIV-positive. Those men now have to live with HIV and everything associated with it because of the misguided morality of this decision. Let us make no mistake: these are not isolated cases. The longer this Government wait to roll out PrEP properly, the more people will be diagnosed.

Will the Minister intervene to ensure that PrEP is made routinely available on the NHS in England—just like his Government have already done with Northern Ireland with direct rule, just like the Scottish Government have done, and just like a Labour Government have done in Wales? Failing that, will he at least uncap the trial to ensure that those trying to access the drug can do so? Will he reverse public health cuts, including those in sexual health, so that the Government meet demand, including that of people affected by HIV, otherwise we seriously risk undoing the really good progress that we have all made?

Just today, the latest Public Health England statistics show that the UK has met its UN AIDS target of 90-90-90, ahead of 2020, which was the date. This is amazing progress, with 92% of people living with HIV diagnosed, 98% on treatment and 97% with undetectable viral load, meaning that they cannot pass it on.

At the Terrence Higgins Trust World AIDS Day reception earlier this week, I am told that the Minister hinted that the Government were considering bolstering their ambition on HIV to committing to reaching zero new HIV transmissions by 2030. In the light of today’s statistics, now is the time to seize that opportunity of reaching zero new HIV infections and be a true global leader. Can the Minister provide details of how the UK Government plan to end HIV infections and what timescale they will commit to?

At present, one young person every day is still diagnosed with HIV and young people continue to suffer some of the worst sexual health outcomes. We cannot be complicit on this. Will the Minister agree to work with the Department for Education to ensure that relationship and sex education guidance has a strong focus on not only HIV prevention, but anti-HIV stigma? Will the Minister also liaise with Department for International Development colleagues to ensure that research funding is increased so that we can make huge gains in scientific breakthroughs to eradicate this disease globally?

In two days’ time, on World AIDS Day, I will stand with my community to mourn the losses of those who have died of AIDS. I will do so at the Brighton AIDS memorial—the only such dedicated public memorial in the country. I will stand there in the knowledge that I will live a life that so many could not. I am able to do that because of the people who have come before me: the people who have fought and lost their lives, and the people who stood up and had their lives changed. We owe it to these people to beat the disease—something we have the power to do. I hope that future generations will look at HIV in the same way that we look at smallpox and polio, as diseases that were once killers but can now be eradicated.

LGBT people often talk about coming out as something that you constantly have to do to new neighbours, friends and work colleagues. You could say the same about your HIV status. I have spent many nervous moments deciding whether to tell new friends and acquaintances about my status. The lump forms in your throat and your heart flutters, and you finally kind of blurt it out and hopefully move on. Well, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank you for giving me this platform to do just that. I thank my friends, family and colleagues for supporting me. I also thank the Terrence Higgins Trust for all its work and the support it has given me in preparing for this debate.

We have the ability to end new HIV transmissions, as well as to end stigma and discrimination—not only here, but globally. I hope we can all make that our mission. [Applause.]