William Eichler 29 November 2018

Council chiefs call for funding to ‘step up’ fight against HIV

Local authority leaders are urging the Government to reverse the £600m of cuts to public health grants to help them ‘step up’ the fight against HIV.

New data from Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that the UK is one of the first countries to meet the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, according to the targets set by the United Nations organisation tasked with fighting the virus.

By the same year, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will also receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

The PHE’s findings show that, in 2017, 92% of the estimated 101,600 people living with HIV infection in the UK were diagnosed, 98% of people diagnosed were receiving treatment, and 97% of people receiving treatment were virally suppressed.

Local authorities welcomed the news that the targets were being met, but warned against complacency.

‘Councils, which are responsible for commissioning sexual health and HIV support services, have overseen a significant increase in HIV testing, deploying innovative methods such as home sampling and rapid testing in sexual health and drugs clinics, as well as targeting those communities most in need of support,’ said Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board.

‘It is important however not to be complacent, and unfortunately, many barriers to HIV testing remain. Stigma and discrimination still deter people from taking an HIV test. Many people still only get tested after becoming ill and symptomatic.’

In their report on the findings, Public Health England called on councils to consider how they can ensure the population groups who are at increased risk can access HIV testing online and in community settings.

The national body also urged them to ensure that all commissioned HIV testing programmes have a well-defined referral pathway to HIV care for all people with a reactive/positive test result.

Councils should also take account of the combination HIV prevention perspective when commissioning, according to PHE.

Cllr Hudspeth said that for local authorities to take a more proactive role in fighting HIV, the Government had to reverse the public health cuts.

‘Government can help councils step up the fight against HIV by reversing the £600m cuts to councils’ public health grants which fund vital sexual health services and prevent people from becoming seriously ill and requiring more expensive NHS treatment further down the line,’ he said.

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