Total Eradication of HIV Transmission In The UK By 2030?

Emerald Life recently launched a new partnership with the Terrence Higgins Trust to donate 5% of premiums to the charity from customers who select that option. Steve Wardlaw, Emerald’s Chairman, spoke to Ian Green, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, to discuss some of the issues surrounding HIV in the UK and what the Trust is hoping to achieve.

SW: thanks for inviting me to the office. Love the Keith Haring art

IG: thanks for coming. Keith Haring was a hugely important artist in the early days of HIV/AIDS, promoting the need to talk about HIV/AIDS, in fact shout about it. While the old message of ‘Silence Equals Death’ is probably too blunt now, ‘silence’ in terms of a lack of education, or lack of successful outreach, is still negatively affecting the health of communities.  HIV remains a hugely stigmatised condition.

SW: what do you mean by that? I thought that with meeting 90/90/90 [the UN percentage target on identifying and treating those living with HIV, a target the UK met two years earlier than expected] we were making good progress?

IG: Yes good progress is being made and this should be celebrated.   But there is still much that needs to be done.   So for instance, while a lot of gay men get the message, get tested and take PrEP [the daily tablets that prevent HIV infection] and if diagnosed with HIV take ARVs [anti-retrovirals that stop the transmission of HIV from a seropositive partner], there are still too many people being infected every year.  I recently heard that one London clinic has reported an increased number of younger gay men seroconverting. We need to look into this more – and more urgently. It may be through participating in chemsex, and so perhaps a more holistic view of sexual health education is needed

SW: are there other areas that you are finding more difficult?

IG: It is really important that we are focussing our prevention messaging to those communities that are most at risk of HIV.  This includes gay men and those from Black African communities.  All of our campaigns include people from both communities and this is really important.  Last year we provided over 23,000 free HIV self testing kits and our approach to marketing was different for both of these communities.

SW: but now with the success of PrEP (although NHS England are still dragging their heels on proper roll-out) and the success of ARVs in preventing HIV transmission, is there an ultimate target? Are we ready to talk about what might have seemed impossible only a few years ago?

IG: yes we are. First though we need to be tough on NHS England. The health secretary Matt Hancock promised more places on England’s PrEP trials (although no-one’s sure why we are still trialling a drug freely available in Wales and Scotland) but not all of these new places on the trial have been made available. That’s putting people at risk of HIV here in England.

SW: but the ultimate target?

IG: well this is exciting! Terrence Higgins Trust has just announced that we have a new target, which is the total eradication of HIV transmission in the UK by 2030. As part of that, we are, along with our colleagues at the National AIDS Trust, setting up a new independent commission headed by a senior business leader to really understand what needs to be done to get to Zero HIV – more to come in the next couple of weeks! We absolutely have all the tools available to us and we can see an end of new HIV transmissions in the UK within the next decade – who would have thought this possible?

SW: that almost seems unbelievable.

IG: I think a few years ago it was.  Our campaign ‘It Starts With Me’ shows all the ways that we can prevent HIV infection, including PrEP but also talking about condoms, testing and treatment as prevention – we call this combination prevention.   But we also need to ensure that young people have the tools available to them to understand how they can be taking responsibility for their own sexual health.

SW: are we touching on the current furore on teaching children about LGBT relationships?

IG: A bit, yes. SRE (sex and relationship education) is vital for all young people.  But start making subjects taboo, such as LGBT issues, then you start having things that pupils can’t talk about.  Sexual health involves much more than HIV and if we don’t educate young people, then they may face the same issues that we faced when we were that age, about ignorance, stigma and prejudice.

SW: Agreed – it’s a horrible thought that we may be backsliding on this.  Anyway, any final remarks?

IG: well, just a thank you to you and Emerald as well for the new partnership with Terrence Higgins Trust.  It is great to partner with a company that is the industry leader in ensuring that people living with HIV have access to insurance products.  We very much hope that the partnership will grow and be of real benefit to the charity!

Emerald customers can now give 5% of their premium automatically to Terrence Higgins Trust by using the code THT5 when they buy a new Emerald policy. Full details are here.