Comment: The government is failing on HIV

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The government has dropped the ball on HIV. It is apathetic and complacent. There are no major public HIV prevention campaigns, HIV services and treatments are under threat of cuts and thousands of new HIV infections are being diagnosed every year.

The government’s HIV strategy is flawed and failing.

London HIV clinics are under pressure to prescribe cheaper HIV drugs, which may not be as effective and may have more severe side effects. This could put at risk the health of some people with HIV. It is evidence of the potentially damaging consequences of public spending cuts and pressure on NHS finances.

The closure or merger of some local and regional HIV services means that many people with HIV now have to travel longer distances to access good quality care and support. The time and cost involved can act as a disincentive to engagement with HIV services.

HIV education is woefully inadequate in most schools. Teaching pupils how to roll a condom on a banana is not good enough.

Very few students learn how to negotiate safer sex and what to do if a partner refuses to wear a condom. There is no popularisation of less risky alternatives to intercourse, such as oral sex, body rubbing and mutual masturbation. These alternatives should be explained in all secondary schools.

What safer sex information is taught in schools is wholly oriented to heterosexual pupils. Gay and bisexual students get no specific advice on how to have gay sex safely.

Many faith schools and independent schools are getting away with neglecting their pupil’s HIV education. They put their own dogmas and embarrassment about sexual matters before the health and welfare of young people.

Frank, detailed and effective HIV awareness and prevention education should be mandatory in all schools from primary level onwards, before pupils become sexually active and adopt unsafe sexual habits.

The needs of gay and bisexual men continue to be under-resourced. HIV prevention campaigns targeted at men who have sex with men are not working, as evidenced by the high number of new HIV infections.

Having won so many gains in terms of legal rights and social acceptance, we need to ensure that we remain healthy to enjoy the benefits of equality. We may have to rethink some HIV prevention advertising campaigns to make them more hard-hitting and impactive. The level of new infections in our community needs to be cut very significantly.

Access to effective HIV prevention information and to high quality HIV health-care are human rights. They should be available to all.