Exclusive: BAME people being ‘left behind’ in successful fight against HIV, top doctor claims

Blood samples of people who took an HIV test

BAME Londoners are being ‘left behind’ in the city’s world-leading success in fighting HIV, Dr José Zuniga, president of International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) has told PinkNews.

Last year, Sadiq Khan signed London up to the Fast-Track Cities Initiative, a network created by IAPAC and UNAIDS, which now includes more than 300 cities and municipalities that are committed to attain the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

The aim is that by 2020, 90 per cent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV undergo treatment, and 90 per cent of people are on treatment having suppressed viral loads, which reduces risk of infection.

Dr Zuniga told PinkNews that by the time London signed up to the Fast-Track Cities Initiative, it had already achieved the UNAIDS targets, and was now at 95-98-97.

He said: “In many respects London is a model that we are trying to promote worldwide… It’s quite a significant accomplishment, and frankly places London ahead of every other city worldwide, as far as the 90-90-90 targets set in 2014.

“The way in which it transpired is partly through the exercise of political will and commitment by the mayor, by the London councils, by public health leadership, by significant community engagement.

“London has prioritised addressing stigma and discrimination in all its forms. That’s not to say that the success is universal across all of London.”

Dr Zuniga said that BAME London residents “are not reaping the benefits of the tools that we have at our disposal to keep people alive and healthy”.

He continued: “The barriers that the BAME community faces are not dissimilar from those that are faced by vulnerable and marginalised populations in other jurisdictions.

“London is not unique in having a community that perhaps has not had the voice at the table or been able to engage meaningfully in planning for and directly monitoring the HIV response.

“It’s representation of ethnic minorities, but it’s also active engagement of these communities. So, these communities doing it themselves, being provided with the resources to do so, rather than relying on other well-meaning institutions that may not have the reach into the communities.

“So, ensuring sustainability of organisations that perhaps have not been well-resourced. Health inequalities fuel the epidemic.”

A negative HIV test is shown at Burrell Street Sexual Health Clinic on July 14, 2016 in London, England.

London is world-leading when it comes to HIV 90-90-90 targets. (Chris Jackson/Getty)

We have the tools to get to zero new HIV infections, we just need more “courage” and “imagination”.

On whether the mayor’s promise to achieve zero new infections by 2030 is really possible, Zuniga said: “I certainly think we have the tools at our disposal to do so, but we’ve had these tools for a while now. What we have lacked is imagination, we’ve lacked courage, the courage of our resolve to get it done.”

However, he added that while getting to zero new infections is very important, ending AIDS-related mortality needs to be a priority.

Zuniga said: “As important as getting to zero is, there is no reason why anyone living with HIV in 2019 should die of AIDS-related complications other than a public health failure on our part.

“What we need to ensure is that every person living with HIV can live a near-normal lifespan. While we do need to focus on the issue of new HIV infections, AIDS-related mortality is at the forefront. It should not happen. Anywhere.”

The inaugural Fast-Track Cities conference will take place in London this year, September 8-11, and it will be the first international gathering of more than 270 cities that are accelerating their responses to HIV.