World AIDS Day

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

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Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

As others have, I thank Emma Harper for bringing this significant matter to the chamber and I thank all members for their thoughtful contributions as we mark the 30th world AIDS day.

This is an important topic and I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Government. I am standing in for the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, Joe FitzPatrick, who was disappointed that, owing to long-standing ministerial business, he could not be here.

As Mary Fee noted and Patrick Harvie so eloquently reminded us, the world has come a long way in relation to HIV and AIDS over the past three decades, and there is much to be proud of in the progress that Scotland has made on that.

As Emma Harper and Miles Briggs highlighted, it emerged last week that we had not just met the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target, but that we had exceeded it. An estimated 91 per cent of HIV-positive people in Scotland know their status; 98 per cent of those people are receiving treatment; and 97 per cent of people who are receiving treatment are achieving viral suppression. That is real and significant progress, which deserves to be recognised and celebrated. I want to take a moment to do that before moving on to the work that is still to come, because the Scottish Government agrees that we cannot and we must not stop now.

A key area of progress has been on testing for HIV. It is important that people who are at risk of HIV get tested, and that we remove any barriers to that testing. In Scotland, there are many people across the national health service and the third sector who have worked incredibly hard to find new ways to promote and provide testing, and to challenge the misinformation and stigma that can hold people back from coming forward for testing.

Another significant milestone in the effort to tackle HIV in Scotland was met in July last year, when PrEP became available on the NHS. As others have noted, PrEP occupies a valuable place in our toolkit to prevent new HIV transmissions. As Jamie Greene noted, we should take pride in the fact that Scotland was the first part of the UK to make PrEP available on the NHS to those who need it. NHS colleagues have worked exceedingly hard to make it available to those who could benefit from taking it. I note Jamie Greene’s comments in that regard. Over 1,800 people have started on PrEP in the first year of its availability. That is 1,800 people whose risk of getting HIV is now dramatically lower. That achievement is well worth celebrating.

However, the statistic highlighted by Ruth Maguire—that only 10 women have accessed the drug—is a concerning one. I will ask Mr FitzPatrick to write to her in response to that. I will also draw to the minister’s attention Patrick Harvie’s point about the next strategy, covering the post-2020 period.

Although we have made fantastic progress, I agree with Miles Briggs that we cannot rest on our laurels. It is important to recognise that there are still challenges ahead, and it is critical that we work collaboratively in order to keep making progress. Emma Harper reminded us of that when she mentioned that double gloving still takes place and that HIV patients are still placed at the end of dental lists.

Given that an estimated 9 per cent of people who live with HIV are unaware of their status, there remains a challenge around testing. Working across organisational boundaries will be key here. We must ensure that third sector organisations are empowered to offer testing, and we need to support NHS colleagues across different specialties to be aware of HIV and to know when to offer testing, so that we can meet Emma Harper’s challenge of finding, reaching and testing people.

The Scottish Government is providing more than £2 million to organisations that deal with sexual health and blood-borne viruses between 2018 and 2021. The organisations that are being funded include Waverley Care, HIV Scotland and the Scottish Drugs Forum, all of which have a role to play in promoting testing to the different communities in Scotland that are most at risk.

The outbreak of HIV among people who inject drugs in Glasgow serves as an important reminder that we cannot afford to be complacent. Last week, my colleague Joe FitzPatrick paid a visit to the staff in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde who have been involved in tackling the outbreak there. He was impressed by their dedication and by the collaborations that they have established to tackle the outbreak.

However, we want to do more. As we stated in the alcohol and drugs strategy that was published last week, the Scottish Government will support measures that might initially seem controversial or unpopular—including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities—that are driven by a clear evidence base. Mr FitzPatrick met the UK Government a few weeks ago. Regrettably, its stance continues to be that it will not allow such an initiative to proceed. We will continue to press for a change in the law or the devolution of the necessary powers.

As many colleagues have rightly said in their contributions to the debate, HIV stigma has no place in Scotland today. We must all commit to seeing the individual person and must never reduce or define someone by their HIV status. We must continue to challenge misinformation and to spread the word that a person who is diagnosed with HIV in Scotland today can expect to live a full life and to have near-normal life expectancy. We must share the message that an individual with a sustained, undetectable level of HIV viral load in their blood is unable to transmit HIV to their sexual partners. As colleagues have repeatedly made clear in the debate, undetectable equals untransmittable.

I will finish where I started by again thanking Emma Harper and everyone who has contributed to the debate.

13:32 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—