HIV and World AIDS Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth 3:38 pm, 29th November 2018

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and completely agree with what he has said.

As my hon. Friend said, access to antiretroviral treatments has revolutionised both treatment and prevention. That has enabled many HIV-positive people to achieve viral suppression where the level of HIV in the blood is so low that it is undetectable and, crucially—we have to emphasise this—untransmittable to others. U=U—undetectable equals untransmittable—is one of the messages that must ring loud and clear from his speech and from this House. It has transformed the medical understanding of HIV from a fatal and emergency disease to one that is chronic and manageable, and where people can live long, happy, healthy lives.

But we must recognise the challenges that exist, particularly internationally, among the world’s 36.9 million people living with HIV. That is still a huge figure. One in four remain unaware of their HIV status. Among those who have tested HIV-positive, 21% globally do not have access to treatment and, of those who have access to antiretroviral treatment, 19% have not yet achieved viral suppression.

I want to turn briefly to some of the key challenges that we face in the UK, which my hon. Friend laid out. Forty-one per cent. of people are still diagnosed late and one in eight people living with HIV do not know their status. In October, we held an event here where we heard from a lady who preferred not to use her real name who had been diagnosed with HIV in her late 50s. She had been left with lifelong physical complications and, tragically, suffered a mental health breakdown because of the extreme stress caused by the diagnosis, the lack of support, the fear, the stigma and the discrimination that she thought she would experience. Holding back tears, she told that room full of strangers that she had been unable to share her HIV status with her friends or family. That shows the courage of the example set by my hon. Friend today. Unfortunately, there are still many people out there, including many I know, who would not have the confidence to do this or even to share their status in private circumstances. We have to turn that around and end the stigma and discrimination.

I absolutely endorse what my hon. Friend said about PrEP. It is simply extraordinary that we are still waiting for the English NHS to make this routinely available. People have told me this week that they want to access PrEP and cannot do so. That simply cannot be the right way forward, from a purely public health point of view, from a rights point of view, and from a cost point of view. In all respects, it is wrong. I hope that the Minister can give us some positive news on that and that we will see the progress that we have seen in the other nations. I pay tribute, as my hon. Friend did, to a Labour Health Secretary in Wales who has shown quite a lot of political and practical leadership, as a Minister, on this issue.

I was disappointed when we had the Department of Health and Social Care prevention strategy last month. There is much in there for us all to agree with, but it failed to mention sexual health at all. That was a huge disappointment because there is a huge amount in the strategy that very much applies to the agenda that we have been talking about today. I hope that the Minister can explain what the Department is going to do to ensure sexual health and HIV prevention are at the heart of that prevention strategy for the NHS overall. I also emphasise what my hon. Friend said about demand for sexual health services rising and the challenges facing particular communities, whether the BME community, the LGBT community, young people, sex workers or injecting drug users. Sometimes we shy away from talking about unfashionable and difficult topics in this House, but we need to have honest and frank conversations if we are going to end HIV and AIDS in this country.

Globally, there are still 15 million people who are not accessing treatment because of inadequate health systems and funding, discriminatory laws, stigma and discrimination, and colonial-era laws that ensure that people do not get the treatment they need. The UK needs to lead the way in ending HIV stigma for good and supporting these programmes through the work of the Department for International Development.

I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Department for International Development, Alistair Burt, who announced at the AIDS conference in Amsterdam an increase in funding for the Robert Carr Fund, for which so many of us have campaigned, and support for civil society organisations to support key populations.

It was inspiring yesterday to hear from not only a young female AIDS activist from Zimbabwe called Audrey, but two former Presidents—the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, and the former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano. President Mogae spoke to us in a way that I did not expect. He spoke about all the things that we know we need to do to tackle HIV, but he stood up as a former African leader and said, “We need to address the needs of the LGBT population, the needs of the trans population, the needs of sex workers and the needs of injecting drug users.” That sent an incredibly strong signal to leaders across Africa and the world that we must talk about these issues and take action on them, and I hope the UK will continue to provide that crucial support.

I pay tribute again to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown for his courage and bravery and the message that it sends. I hope the Minister will have some hopeful words for us about the situation in the UK. I want to end by thanking all the organisations that do so much to support our APPG’s work, including the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, STOPAIDS, Youth Stop AIDS, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV and so many more. I thank all the organisations that are active in our communities and, I am sorry to say, are filling the gaps left by cuts to provision. They are out there making the case, supporting people living with HIV and taking us all down the road to ending this epidemic by 2030.