Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework

– in the Scottish Parliament on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

7. To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the development of new tools for HIV prevention and treatment, what action it is taking to update its 2015 to 2020 sexual health and blood borne virus framework. (S5O-02675)

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I am delighted at the developments that we have seen since the publication of the update in 2015, including Scotland becoming the first part of the United Kingdom to make HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis available through the national health service. Work on developing a further update to the framework will begin next year, and officials will engage with a wide range of stakeholders to identify areas for further action with a view to publishing an update in 2020. We will adopt the co-production approach that has been taken in the past and which has supported the progress that has been made across Scotland, such as our recently exceeding the United Nations AIDS 90-90-90 target for HIV. I am happy to engage with the member and others across the chamber who have a particular interest in taking the issue forward.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am aware that I am asking this question well in advance of the development of a successor to the framework that runs to 2020, but that is deliberate, because we now have not only PrEP but effective post-exposure prophylaxis and levels of treatment that lead not only to HIV-positive people living long and healthy lives but to the level of viral load being undetectable and the virus being untransmittable. Given such developments, many in the field feel that it would be appropriate and possible to set a target of zero new HIV transmissions in Scotland. Will the Government seriously consider putting such a target into the next framework update?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

First, it is important to re-emphasise the undetectable equals untransmittable—or U=U—message; indeed, we as politicians must spread that important message as widely as possible, because it tells anyone afraid of having the test because they think that it is a life sentence that treatment is available that will make their viral load undetectable and therefore untransmittable.

It is correct for us to be ambitious in this area, and the Scottish Government supports the ambition of there being zero new HIV infections. I am happy to work with the HIV community, the member and other stakeholders to look at what would be required to get us to the point where we would be confident to put such a target into our new strategy, but I think that all of us across the chamber will share that ambition.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I must ask for short supplementaries and answers, please.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

HIV Scotland estimates that 13 per cent of people with the virus are unaware of their status. What action can the Government take within the sexual health framework to raise awareness in that respect and reduce that worrying statistic?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The good news is that, because of the progress we have made, the 13 per cent figure that Mary Fee has mentioned is now down to 9 per cent, which puts us ahead of the international targets. However, I absolutely want to get to the point where everyone knows their status. The test is not difficult for people to take, and the U=U message makes it clear to people that there is a really good reason why they should take the test and that the virus is treatable. We need to keep sending that message and keep encouraging people to get tested, but we also need to look at new and innovative ways of going out into communities, identifying people who might be at risk and encouraging them to take the test.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

The HIV prevention drug PrEP is accessed almost exclusively by men, but given that a third of all people living with HIV are women, what is being done to redress the imbalance of access to the drug?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

First, we must make it clear that PrEP is available to women. It is right that women who are at high risk of becoming HIV positive have access to it, but the member is absolutely right about the lack of awareness in that respect, which has resulted in a lack of uptake, and organisations such as Waverley Care and the Scottish Drugs Forum have received funding from the Scottish Government and are working to raise awareness of PrEP for women who might benefit from taking it. It is really important that we recognise the work of those third-party organisations in going out and finding communities who are at risk and ensuring that they are aware of their right to PrEP.