HIV Commission report: now to move from words to actions
By Deborah Gold, Chief Executive
We set up the HIV Commission in 2019 as a partnership with the Terrence Higgins Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation. It was tasked with answering one question: how can we end new HIV cases in England by 2030? Today the HIV Commission final report was launched at an online event where it was responded to by not one but two Government Ministers, and received the backing of Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer MP.
Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, welcomed the report at the event as a “landmark document…that will help us chart our future path to the elimination of new transmissions here in this country.”
This goal to end new cases of HIV by 2030 was a commitment made by the Health Secretary almost two years ago - but policy without a plan is meaningless. To develop a plan that really works, we decided to do things a bit differently. The HIV Commission invited leaders from from business, charity, politics and health – to draw on their personal experience. Dame Inga Beale, a leading British businesswoman, former CEO of Lloyd’s of London, Chaired the independent HIV Commission which was advised by a group of experts who, over the past year have provided an incredible volume of evidence through, meetings, evidence hearings and written submissions.
We want to thank everyone who has contributed to this process.
We had made enormous progress on HIV, but there was still so much more to do. And, as Dr Rob Berkeley MBE highlighted at the event, COVID-19 has taken a further toll on the pervasive inequalities in this country that drive HIV and other inequalities. The need to fight stigma and health inequality informs every part of the final report.
The three main recommendations of the Commission form the pillars of an effective strategy to meet our goals. These are:
1. England should take the necessary steps to be the first country to end new HIV transmissions, by 2030, with an 80% reduction by 2025. Jointly the Department for Health and Social Care and the Cabinet Office should report to parliament on an annual basis the progress toward these three goals.
2. National government must drive and be accountable for reaching this goal through publishing a comprehensive national HIV Action Plan in 2021.
3. HIV testing must become routine – opt-out, not opt-in, with HIV testing across the health service.
Today we’ve already made some progress. We are delighted that the Health Secretary committed to the interim milestone of an 80% reduction by 2025. And, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office also attended the event to discuss a cross-Governmental approach to work on these recommendations. He agreed to report back every year on the targets set.
The Health Secretary also said that the Commission report is vital in looking at “how we can expand access to testing even more widely,” and committed to the publication of an HIV Action Plan that would build on the insights of the HIV Commission in 2021.
This last recommendation on HIV testing is critical so that those who are not yet diagnosed know about their HIV status and can access HIV care, improving their health outcomes and stopping the virus from being passed on. Gove, agreed with the HIV Commission that “testing has not been adequate so far”. Expanding testing is not only about the medical benefits, it is about challenging pervasive stigma. Sir Elton John opened the event this morning with the plea that opt-out testing across the NHS is about saying “This is normal, not shameful, not secret, not judgemental.”
Gove said that the Prime Minister has asked him to work with the Health Secretary on this, to “make sure resources are there and that there is no slackening in our resolve” and made reference to the importance of “science that is properly supported with proper investment”. It is this proper support and investment that we need to enact this plan, and, in the words of Ian Green and Anne Aslett, my counterparts at THT and EJAF, “we will be holding the Government’s feet to the fire”.
Please join the debate, share the report and contact your MP to ask them to support this report. Use hashtag 0 HIV by 30 (#0HIVby30) on social media. They say it is hard to get the country talking about anything other than COVID, I know this community knows how to shout from the rafters. Let’s make our vision heard and the powers that be know, we want actions to follow words.
Deborah Gold is Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust. You can follow her on Twitter here: @deborahagold