World AIDS Day

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

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I, too, warmly thank Emma Harper for bringing this debate to the chamber.

We have had three decades of world AIDS days, which is an extraordinary fact. I find it extraordinary, too, that I have been a member of the Scottish Parliament for half that time. I recently read the

Official Report of the world AIDS day debate that I took part in in 2003, which was brought to the chamber by a former Labour colleague, Des McNulty, whom I bumped into the other day and exchanged a “Hello” with. As I have reflected at a couple of world AIDS day events this year that I have spoken at, the fact that we have debated world AIDS day so many times has made me recognise not only how much has changed but how much things have stayed the same.

Back in 2003, we were debating Scotland’s first-ever sexual health and relationships strategy, which was still in draft and not yet in place. Although progress has been made since then, we still see a great deal of patchiness around sex education and relationships education in our schools. We must continually drive to put pressure on all political parties and the Government to improve that situation.

Before I was elected as an MSP, I worked in an HIV agency during the years when we were starting to see the first effective antiretrovirals becoming more available. However, at that time, the antiretrovirals had many problematic side effects. Treatment usually involved a more complex combination of drugs than is used today, which was much more problematic for people, especially those with chaotic lifestyles. We have now got to the point, though, where we have so many more effective remedies and tools in the box for treatment that leads to people being unable to pass the virus on through sex, as other members have mentioned. We also have new tools in the box for prevention, and members have mentioned pre-exposure preventative prophylaxis—PrEP—in that regard. There is now the opportunity to prevent HIV being transmitted among people who are in the highest-risk groups. I could not have imagined when I worked in the HIV agency that we would now be at a point where we have those new tools in the box.

We still see, however, issues around stigma. When I was a student, I was probably in a lucky generation, because if I had come out a few years earlier, before condom provision was widespread and people were aware of HIV, I might have been at much more risk. However, when I was a student, James Anderton—“God’s Cop”—was the chief constable of Greater Manchester and he was protected by the United Kingdom Government for his homophobic and bigoted comments about HIV and AIDS. He authorised raids on gay clubs in Manchester—I was reminded of this when Emma Harper talked about a medical professional using surgical protective gear—that involved police being sent into clubs wearing biohazard equipment in order to manhandle people who were just there for a night out. It was an extraordinary level of ignorance and prejudice, which was being cultivated deliberately at the time by those in power as well as by those with influence in the media.

Much has changed, but there are still problems with stigma and there are still pockets of severe ignorance and prejudice. I pay tribute to Lloyd Russell-Moyle—as Miles Briggs did—for coming out publicly, in the House of Commons, as someone who has a positive diagnosis of HIV. For an MP to say that not only are they willing to challenge the stigma of HIV, but that someone with HIV can and does lead an active, healthy and long life and that it is something that HIV positive people can expect, is in itself an important thing to do in challenging stigma.

As Mary Fee said, we have made progress, but there is still a huge way to go on the international aspects. We are still a long way from achieving the 90-90-90 target around the world. A great deal has changed, but a great deal is still the same.

The Scottish Government has a sexual health and blood borne virus framework, which runs to 2020. That means that, next year, the Government will be doing the work on the next update. I urge the Scottish Government, recognising the new tools for prevention and treatment, to make a policy commitment to setting a target of zero new infections of HIV in the next update. That would be an important step forward and would drive the progress that we need to make.

Once again, I thank Emma Harper for securing the debate.