At a Big Tent Digital event last night (4 February) Jo Churchill MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, announced that following a record-breaking week for HIV testing in the UK, Public Health England will release an extra 10,000 tests to allow for more members of the public to check their HIV status. This comes after record demand for tests led to kits running out earlier this week, following Health Secretary Matt Hancock urging everyone to get their free test in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“I’d like to thank the Terrence Higgins Trust and all charities in this area, particularly the HIV Commission,” Churchill said. “It will ensure we keep thinking about how we can do things better.”
“The HIV sector is remarkable in its optimism and pragmatism. Zero transmission is an ambitious target, but I want to confirm this government’s commitment to it.”
This announcement rounds up HIV Testing Week, an initiative led by the Terrence Higgins Trust to rally the Government, health service and public around the goal of ending domestic HIV Transmission by 2030. The event was moderated by Baroness Barker, LGBT Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords who’s an officer of the APPG on HIV/AIDS and also a co-chair of the APPG on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
Further highlighting the growing cross-party support for dialling up the fight against HIV, Barker announced an inquiry by the APPG into HIV testing in the UK looking into what works, what could be improved, and how we can ensure missed opportunities to test for HIV are a thing of the past. It will be launched officially on 10 February.
Barker commented on her experience as an activist in the eighties and nineties before effective treatment for the disease was made available: “I wasn’t somebody who was directly in the line of fire back in the day but many of my friends were.”
“There was so much we didn’t say back in the day,” she reminisced. “Today, we are in a completely different place. Today it is right that we should be asking everybody if they’ve been tested. A test is now the start of something good, not a confirmation of something bad.”
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said he was encouraged by the conversations he’s been having throughout the week, boosted by the huge success of the Channel 4 drama ‘It’s a Sin’, which shows the experience of the LGBTQ community in London during the emergence of HIV in the eighties:
“Testing is a key issue we need to address. I’m delighted that the HIV Commission has been so warmly embraced by the Government and parliament.”
“HIV shouldn’t be a party political issue. It should be about health and social justice.”
The event was also attended by Reverend Jide Macaulay, the Founder and CEO of House of Rainbow CIC. Macaulay is an openly gay British-Nigerian Chistian minister, who spoke about his experience of being HIV positive
“In 2003 I went for one of my routine tests and it came back positive. Like many people in that era I thought it was a death sentence. Ever since I’ve been telling people that testing is key to finding out what’s going on.”
Since his diagnosis Macaulay has worked hard to break the stigma around the disease within the communities he works with as a Reverend:
“In the black and religious community we’re not supposed to have sex in the first place, and especially not with the same gender. We need to knock outside stigma, denial and discrimination.”
Dr Sean Perera, Associate Medical Director for Sexual Health at Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor, also joined the panel to share his view on how to normalise testing as a general practitioner. He called for the expansion of digital services:
“We need to do more work around those populations are digitally excluded. If we don’t embrace digital we risk excluding even more people.”
Perera also outlined how he think the goal of zero HIV transmission in the UK by 2030 can be reached from a practical point of view:
“If opt out testing was the norm the morbidity associated with late stage testing would be completely avoided.”
“There seems to be this idea that HIV testing is the local commissioners business. It requires a system change that doesn’t impact physician workload and is backed by a funding stream.”