World AIDS Day on December 1st 2018 is a chance for all of us to focus on what we can individually do to help eradicate AIDS across the world. Everyone will probably have a different personal reason for wanting this campaign to be a success. I have a very personal one that’s close to home. My husband Michael lost both of his brothers because of AIDS. Paul and Christopher Keegan were both gay men who became infected in the 1990s long before there were any effective and life preserving treatments for HIV. As a result, I never got to meet Christopher and Paul, my husband lost his brothers and my step sons lost their uncles.
Many people will have their own personal stories of loss caused by this disease. One of my constituents was kind enough to send me a link to a photographic collection by Gideon Mendel who documented life on the first AIDS ward at the Borderip in London’s Middlesex Hospital. The pictures are heart-breaking as all the patients who appear in them subsequently died.
So, I want to see an end to this disease and will use my voice in Parliament to further the cause. I think we are making progress, but more of course still needs to be done. On the positive side new HIV infections have fallen 28% since 2015 and we have a large increase in the number of people taking HIV tests and the introduction of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) trials in the UK through the NHS. I’m looking forward to hearing about the results of PrEP trials and learning about what more can be done. As a result of all these interventions, new HIV infections in the UK have fallen to their lowest level in absolute terms since 2000. But let’s not forget that we still live in a world which is threatened by HIV-related stigma which often stops people from talking about HIV prevention and taking HIV tests.
Raising public awareness and breaking down myths about HIV is a critical part of ending stigma. To mark the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, organisations and individuals across the UK have come together this week for the ENDAIDS2030 Festival. The Festival has included over 40 events that aimed to tackle stigma and mobilise public support for ending AIDS.
There is also an important global perspective as the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a clear threat to millions of people worldwide and places a huge burden on healthcare facilities and that’s why it’s is doubly important that we work to eradicate it. In 2016 alone AIDS killed over one million people in the world and death toll to date is estimated to be over 35 million by UNAIDS who are leading the global effort to end AIDS by 2030 as part of the commitment to the universal Sustainable Development Goals. I am proud that the UK Government is playing its part fully by being the second largest government donor (after the United States) to the global AIDS response.
Overall, I’m confident we are going to win this fight. Innovation is helping with the arrival of new medicines and drugs coupled with increasing awareness of how best to fight the disease. The innovation isn’t only research based as we are also seeing new insurance providers entering the market to provide cover for people who are HIV positive thereby providing this community with the same peace of mind that the rest of us take for granted when we purchase insurance.
To make sure we win I think we need to hold on to two important truths. Firstly, that prevention is always better then cure and, in my experience, has a much better business case. And secondly that ignorance is not bliss. Training and awareness are vital tools in this fight, so it is important we continue to challenge any HIV related stigma to maintain our prevention success.
So, let’s all get behind the global campaign to eradicate AIDs. Please show your support and consider whether you should have a test. That’s why I’m wearing my red ribbon this week in Parliament with pride. I think Paul and Christopher would have approved.