How can the UK end domestic transmission of HIV by 2030? This was discussed at a Big Tent Digital event held last night (20 January) in partnership with Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor and the Terrence Higgins Trust, chaired by Labour MP for Vauxhall, Florence Eshalomi.

While a wide range of solutions were brought up and debated, a key one brought up throughout the event was the need for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug drastically reducing the risk of transmission of HIV, to be available outside of sexual health services and as part of the GP Core Contract.

Steve Brine MP, Former Public Health Minister and member of the HIV Commission, is the first MP to call for this policy as a tool to eliminate domestic transmission of the virus in the UK:

“We need to pave the way for PREP to be available outside of sexual health services. It needs to be negotiated as part of the GP Core Contract – it’s just the way primary care works.”

Looking ahead, Brine is optimistic about the possibility to meet the 2030 deadline set by the HIV Commission, highlighting the need for testing to play an important role too:

“It’s a wholly achievable goal. Our contention is that we absolutely can end new HIV cases in England by 2030. It will take a step change in belief, resources and significant Government action.”

“We need to normalise HIV testing throughout NHS. All too often the opportunity to test is missed.”

Dr Sean Perera, Associate Medical Director of Sexual Health at Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor, echoed Brine’s positive sentiment but argued that focus needs to move beyond testing to also include accountability and funding:

“We’re in a new phase in the response – it is time for action. If we’re to find the estimated 5,700 people unknowingly living with HIV it’s about more than testing.”

“A key hindrance is accountability of testing and who is funding it. It saddens me that many of us still struggle.”

“I believe the next step is true collaboration and securing appropriate resource. People aren’t static, patterns of transmission change and our health and care system changes. COVID has taught us that we need to be active and ready to respond.”

Michelle Ross, Co-founder and Director of Holistic Wellbeing Services at cliniQ, a non-profit organisation promoting sexual health and wellbeing within the trans community, initiated a discussion around how crucial it is to involve members of communities affected by HIV directly in the fight against the disease:

“We need to make sure all services are using images and materials reflecting communities they’re reaching out to.”

“For many years, trans people were seen as hard to reach. I don’t see that at all. In fact, I see them as not hard to reach when you know where to look.”

She also echoed the need for PREP to be more readily available: “PrEP availability needs to be anywhere we can get it.”

Takudzwa Mukiwa, Head of Health Improvement Programmes at Terrence Higgins Trust and the founder of Black Men’s Health, reminded the audience that many positive strides have been made in recent years when it comes to HIV, including the impact on the Black African community in the UK, but that issues remain around funding:

“We’ve never had adequate resourcing for Black Africans. One of our challenges will be enabling ourselves to think about how we resource things and where we put those resources.”

As to what needs to be prioritised, Mukiwa sees giving people access to better testing infrastructure as key:

“For us to reach the community, we need to think about the methods we use to reach them. At house testing, an important method in the HIV Commission report, needs to be expanded.”

Beyond funding and improved infrastructure, Florence Eshalomi also highlighted the need for continued education: “It’s not just about funding, it’s about educating our young people, the next generation, and our diverse community.”

A key sentiment at the session was the cross-party support on ramping up the work to end HIV transmission in the UK. Steve Brine MP reassured the attendees:

“We need to leave the cynicism at the door and come together in parliament. Whatever happens in Westminster this will continue.”

Big Tent Ideas Festival

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