World AIDS Day

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

I thank Emma Harper for bringing this members’ business debate to Parliament.

I am pleased to take part in a debate on the 30th world AIDS day, which raises awareness of HIV, challenges stigma and is a chance for all of us to reflect on the progress that has been made in tackling HIV and AIDS.

Since the first world AIDS day, on 1 December 1988, when I was just five, huge progress has been made to end the AIDS epidemic and to tackle the stigma surrounding HIV. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, HIV is now a manageable long-term health condition. We need to talk about that more, and so do medical professionals.

As Emma Harper has rightly stated, as well as being manageable, HIV is also untransmittable by people who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load. I very much agree with Emma Harper that the U=U message needs to get out there. It is crucial for an improved understanding of HIV and a reduction in stigma, as well as for achieving fewer new infections in the future.

Stigma is probably the biggest obstacle in the fight against HIV/AIDS, making people living with HIV feel isolated. I have often been told that by people to whom I have spoken about the issue. It can also prevent people from getting tested and accessing treatment. I thank HIV Scotland for all the excellent work that it is doing to change the narrative around HIV and AIDS, and I congratulate it on the launch of its new book “Disclosures: Rewriting the Narrative About HIV”, which has been mentioned. I am thankful to HIV Scotland for giving me a copy last week. I have not yet had a chance to read it, but I look forward to doing so over the winter recess.

I find it shocking that the recent survey by Waverley Care revealed that 14 per cent of respondents did not have sympathy for those living with HIV. That reinforces the fact that more still needs to be done to tackle stigma, and I hope that this debate helps to highlight that.

Last week, in the House of Commons, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle announced to the nation that he is HIV positive. In his speech, Mr Russell-Moyle spoke about when he was diagnosed as being HIV positive, 10 years ago, and everything that went through his head during that time. He also talked about how the medication that he now takes means that he can be healthy and that any partner that he may have can be protected, promoting the message that undetectable equals untransmittable.

Mr Russell-Moyle’s bravery in talking about his diagnosis, and his message that the status of being HIV positive does not define a person, will go a long way towards reducing the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. I repeat his important message, which Emma Harper highlighted, that people need to look towards their status and be tested, instead of not doing that out of fear. It is better to live in knowledge than to die in fear.

I fully support the goal of having zero new infections, and I believe that we, in Scotland, can work to achieve that. In 2017, 368 new cases of HIV were reported, and in 2018, up to September, 218 new cases have been reported. On the UNAIDS fast-track strategy 90-90-90 targets, it is estimated that 87 per cent of infected people in Scotland know their status and that, of those who do, 98 per cent are receiving antiretroviral treatment and about 97 per cent have achieved viral suppression.

This is an important debate, and I am pleased to take part in it every year, because Scotland can lead the way in eliminating new HIV infections. However, to do that, more work still needs to be done. First, and most important, we need to fight the stigma around HIV and AIDS so that more people have the confidence to get tested and we can stop the spread of the virus.

I thank Emma Harper once again for bringing the debate to the chamber and look forward to listening to the other contributions.