UK Pledges to Have No New Cases of HIV by 2030

The UK is pledging that by 2030 it will eliminate new cases of HIV, but how realistic is this?

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock made the pledge at the Independent and Evening Standard’s AIDSfree Cities Global Forum. Hancock said the government wanted to create more direct funding to stop new cases of HIV acquisition. In addition to this, the government would direct a further £1.5 million ($1.7 million) to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which works both domestically and internationally to fight HIV.

“HIV and Aids are challenges that we must rise to,” Hancock told the Independent. “The injustice, the unfairness, and the sadness they have brought must be tackled by us all. My generation grew up knowing AIDS was a potential death sentence. That doesn’t have to be the case anymore.”

“Thanks to medical breakthroughs, public health campaigns, breaking down stigma and better education, AIDS is no longer a death sentence here,” Hancock added. “I feel proud that Britain has made such progress. But when I think about what’s going on elsewhere, I feel anger that our progress is not yet reflected around the world. We’re all part of the global solution to this global challenge. What we do locally in London, in Delhi, in Nairobi, in Maputo, in Kiev, in Atlanta, in other cities, has an impact globally. So today we’re setting a new goal: eradicating HIV transmission in England by 2030.”

On the surface, the trends on HIV acquisition in the UK do make this looks possible.

The UK has seen some dramatic decreases in HIV rates among at-risk populations, including new cases falling by as much as 50 percent between 2012-2017 for men who have sex with men (MSM). Similarly, rates of new infections have, on average, dropped significantly among Black British people who—due to overlapping factors like higher rates of poverty, fewer targeted services and racism—tend to be more at risk.

Such sharp decreases in acquisition have led to the UK being able to meet the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target, which challenges countries to diagnose over 90 percent of people living with HIV, to have 90 percent of those on treatment and of those for 90 percent to have a viral load that effectively means they cannot transmit the virus. The UK achieved this feat in 2018, with a marked decline in MSM populations acquiring HIV since 2015.

If the UK did manage to end new HIV acquisition cases by 2030, it would be the first country in the world to do so, but there are significant barriers to that goal.

Critics point out that, while this commitment is welcome, there seems to be serious hurdles to overcome.

The UK has seen severe cuts to public spending, particularly in the area of sexual health, with councils warning that even as demand for sexual health clinics have risen, austerity has led to budgets cuts and services being closed down. Without easily-accessible STI screenings, preventing new cases of HIV will be challenging.

Under the latest announcement the government plans to channel an extra £600,000 ($788,073) in new funding to vulnerable groups. These funds are certainly welcome, but the shortfall created by austerity has led to patients being turned away from screenings, because there is not enough money to facilitate an HIV test. The government must first address the underlying shortfall of year-on-year spending before these extra funds can really translate into progress.

In fact, Ruth Robinson for The King’s Fund, a respected independent charity working group on healthcare in England, notes in an excellent piece about prevention rhetoric failing to create meaningful action: “Between 2013/14 and 2017/18 the public health grant to local authorities decreased by 8 per cent in real terms from £2.7 billion to £2.4 billion (comparing spending on like for like services).”

While NHS spending rose in that time, the government also ”confirmed a 2.6 per cent cut in the public health grant for 2019/20″ just before Christmas.

NHS will have to plug those gaps, or this spending increase doesn’t actually create an abundance of funds, it just (slightly) eases financial restrictions put in place under the Conservative government’s public spending cuts.

Furthermore, the UK is still dithering over PrEP, the medication that can reduce the chances of HIV-1 acquisition for most people up to 90 percent. Despite its proven success, in the UK the drug remains in the trial phases, leading to patients being denied the drug as its availability is limited.

Support for sex workers, LGBT relationships education in schools and greater awareness of the need to get tested are all critically important, yet these areas have, at best, been payed lip service, campaigners say.

The UK government’s pledge to end new HIV acquisitions is certainly an admirable one, and the overall trend of decreased transmission rates seems ripe for making the goal of ending HIV acquisition in England a reality. Charities have warned, however, that any further cuts to frontline sexual health testing services threaten to create a ticking time bomb on STIs that could cost us all this good work to date.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

29 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad A3 days ago

Thank you.

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Colin Clauscen
Colin C8 days ago

Hope they are successful

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Catherine Z
Catherine Z12 days ago

ty

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Ruth R
Ruth R13 days ago

Paid, not "payed"

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Lindsay K
Lindsay K13 days ago

A great ambition to have, but I'm not sure it's realistic at all. Many thanks for sharing.

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Janet B
Janet B13 days ago

Thanks

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Peggy B
Peggy B13 days ago

TYFS

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Alea C
Alea C13 days ago

In Dec 2018 Trump cut HIV/AIDS funding, so we'll be light years ahead of the UK when it comes to new cases of HIV. My, aren't we the lucky ones?

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Wesley Struebing
Wesley Struebing13 days ago

So, as the article pretty-much says, *largely* eliminate - sure. No new cases? Not a chance.

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Loredana V
Loredana V13 days ago

It woud be great!

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