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Plan announced to mark World Aids Day.
Plans for eliminating HIV transmission in Scotland within the next decade have been commissioned by Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick.
The HIV transmission elimination proposal, announced today [Tuesday 1 December] to mark World Aids Day, will be developed alongside other measures to prevent transmission, including free condom provision, widening access to medication that prevents HIV infection, increasing testing capacity and measures to prevent people sharing needles.
The Scottish Government has also provided £377,000 to develop a national online service for sexually transmitted infections and bloodborne viruses, which will allow people to request a test online and home self-sampling, while providing clinicians with comprehensive, real-time data on HIV care and outcomes.
Mr FitzPatrick said:
“Scotland has made huge progress in detecting and treating HIV, and people with the virus are now able to live long, happy and healthy lives. Thanks to our leading sexual and reproductive health services, access to HIV specialist treatment and care is excellent. We are also one of the first countries in the world to have an HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis service, offering free preventative medication to those deemed at highest risk of acquiring HIV.
“I believe we can go further and that the goal of eliminating HIV transmission is now in sight.”
Dr Rak Nandwani, Consultant in HIV Medicine and Joint Chair of the Sexual Health & Bloodborne Viruses Strategic Leads, is leading work on the proposals. He said:
“Coronavirus (COVID-19) has put immense pressure on NHS Scotland services, laboratories and public health in 2020. However, I believe that the commitment from Ministers and support from Scottish Government has put Scotland in a good position to realistically consider putting an end to HIV being passed on.
“Working together is one of our greatest strengths and will enable us to make real progress increasing HIV testing capacity, linking people to care once diagnosed, and most importantly helping to reduce stigma and discrimination related to HIV. One day, I hope we will have a cure or vaccine, but in the meanwhile, these are the actions we will be working on to become one of the first countries to eliminate HIV transmission.”
Welcoming the commitment, HIV Scotland Chief Executive Nathan Sparling said:
“Eliminating new HIV transmission and ending the pervasive stigma attached to the virus are two central goals of our work. It is great to see not only a commitment from the Scottish Government, but clear action that will help us deliver a plan to make elimination a reality.
“Scotland’s unique response to HIV – working strategically between government, clinicians, academics, the third sector and people living with HIV – makes this target achievable. Coupled with the public support for preventative spending on HIV and other long-term conditions, we can really harness Scotland’s potential to be one of the first countries in the world to achieve HIV transmission elimination.”
The proposals will be drawn up by the Scottish Health Protection Network, including clinical, public health, academic and third sector partners, and will form a key element of the Scottish Government’s next Sexual Health and Bloodborne Virus Framework. This framework sets out the Scottish Government’s vision and outcomes in relation to sexual health, HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B.
Last year there were 5,617 people diagnosed and living with HIV in Scotland, according to Health Protection Scotland data. Of those attending HIV specialist treatment and care, 98% were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). In 95%, the virus cannot be detected in their blood, meaning they have an undetectable viral load and cannot transmit HIV.
HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill comprising two HIV antiretroviral drugs. It is prescribed to HIV negative people at risk of becoming infected sexually as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention.