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Five challenges for HIV and sexual health in 2017

Five challenges for HIV and sexual health in 2017

Stop the Cuts

Funding cuts, PrEP roll-out and sex and relationship education for all young people – Head of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Debbie Laycock looks at the top five challenges 2017 will bring for HIV and sexual health.

As the dust settles on what was a world-changing 2016, we are already looking ahead at what 2017 has in store and the key issues that will capture our attention here at Terrence Higgins Trust in England, Scotland and Wales.

1. Funding for HIV and sexual health services will continue to be threatened

As Alex mentioned in her round up of 2016, HIV support services across England saw big cuts to funding or were scrapped altogether – leaving significant gaps in essential support needed by people living with HIV. HIV support services and prevention services, funded by local authorities in England, will continue to be threatened in 2017.

Public health cuts are a big mistake. With ever more cuts to council public health budgets and the public health funding ring-fence ending in 2018, HIV and sexual health services will continue to be axed. These are short sighted cuts which will not only cost individuals dearly but also lead to increased costs to the NHS and local authorities in the long term.

2. Is this the year Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is made statutory?

The momentum is building in calling for SRE to be taught in all schools in the UK. An ever increasing, diverse groundswell of individuals – from young people, to teachers, to public health professionals – are calling on governments to make SRE statutory in all schools. And that undoubtedly includes us here at Terrence Higgins Trust.

In England things look more positive than they have in years. The Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening MP has announced she is ‘reviewing’ the status of SRE. There have also been murmurings that an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, currently winging its way through the House of Commons, or to the government’s yet to be released Education Bill, will include a commitment on SRE.

As with my view of everything to do with government, I will believe it when I see it and in the meantime we must continue to ensure pressure is maintained. It’s important that young people continue to be at the heart of our campaigning.

In Wales in 2017, the government will continue plans to implement the new curriculum including a focus on health and wellbeing. Age appropriate, good quality SRE must be a core component otherwise we will be continuing to fail our young people. 

3. Shedding light on the concerns of individuals ageing with HIV

The availability of effective HIV treatment means that the first generation of people living with HIV are living into older age. But what does it mean to be 50 or over and living with HIV, and where is the action needed to ensure that the needs of this group are met?

On Thursday 19 January, we will release our report – Uncharted Territory – which shares the experiences of over 300 people living with HIV aged 50 or over and will kick start a sustained policy campaign.

4. Making sure PrEP becomes a reality

While last year’s announcement by NHS England of a study that will result in 10,000 people accessing PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) in England is welcome, there are many questions that remain unanswered. The next 12 months will be key in ensuring that the study is effective and includes all community groups at risk of HIV including women and the trans* community.

Working through the coalition United4PrEP, the HIV sector must continue to stand together and hold NHS England and Public Health England to account on its commitments on PrEP.

Progress towards PrEP in Scotland, led by HIV Scotland, will continue to pick up pace in 2017 and this year we will also see the outcome of the Independent HIV Expert Group’s assessment on the use of PrEP in Wales.

5. Addressing inequality in Wales 

Our campaigning, alongside organisations like Stonewall Cymru, has ensured that HIV and sexual health is back on the agenda in the Welsh Assembly. This year will see the start of the Public Health Wales review into sexual health services, and the output of the Welsh Government Sexual Health Programme Board’s assessment of prioritises for sexual health in Wales.

We know that current access to HIV and sexual health services across Wales is inadequate and inequitable. This year we will continue to engage with the government’s reviews into sexual health to ensure that they deliver what is needed for people across Wales. 

Deep breath! If you want to get involved in any of our campaigning around these five challenges than please take a look at our Campaign section.

Debbie LaycockDebbie Laycock is Head of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust.

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