Happy new year to you all!

Following on from an action-packed 2018, it’s time to look at what the next 12 months have in store.

Inevitably, our work this year will be against a backdrop that is shaped by Brexit and the impact that this has on the work of Government and all politicians across the spectrum. But so much progress on HIV has been made in 2018 and we won’t let that be reversed in the year ahead. 

Since 2015, we’ve seen big drops in new HIV diagnoses in the UK and we want to see that progress continue this year and beyond.  That’s why a key priority will be pushing the UK Government to follow in the footsteps of Wales and adopt a new national target to get to no new HIV transmissions in England by latest 2030 – including key steps for achieving that ambitious aim.

While we’re seeing progress in HIV, some sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhoea and syphilis, are continuing to increase, with a 20% jump in both reported in 2018. In the coming year we will have a major focus on what needs to happen in England to tackle the continued STI crisis. This will include publishing our next Insight Briefing, which focuses on the sexual health of people living with HIV, and a stocktake of the sexual health of the nation. As with HIV, we need a clear plan of action and ownership on how progress will be made.

In Wales, this year will see the mid-point of the two years within which the Welsh Government has committed to implementing the recommendations of the independent review on sexual health. While some progress has been made, there is still a lot to do to ensure equal access to good quality sexual health services across the country.

Sexual health services play a key part in the continued progress in HIV and the urgently needed steps to address STIs. In England, this is in jeopardy due to the continued deep cuts to local authority public health budgets. Very soon we will see the start of the Government’s Departmental Spending Review. This will set the local authority public health budget for the coming years so we are working with a broad spectrum of organisations to push for increased funding for vital public health services.

We’re working hard to normalise STI testing – but that’s undermined if demand continues to outweigh availability in our chronically underfunded sexual health clinics. And don’t be fooled: it’s completely disingenuous for this Government to boast of additional funds for the NHS while cutting public health.

Investing in prevention is just common sense and Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP has committed to launching a Prevention Green Paper in ‘early 2019’ which will further shape his vision for prevention services in England. Sexual health and HIV must be a core part of this focus and the Government’s ambitions must be bold – a commitment to fully fund services to end new HIV infections and tackle the STI crisis.

Two parliamentary committees will be focusing on our world: the Health and Social Care Committee will be continuing its inquiry into sexual health, and the Women and Equalities Committee will be focusing on LGBT health. 

As part of HIV combination prevention, our campaigning and lobbying work on HIV prevention pill PrEP will continue at pace. We want to see PrEP being available as part of routine sexual health services for all those who need it.

A lot of progress has been made on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in the past year and more is expected in 2019. This year will see regulations on RSE come to Parliament, as well as the release of the final updated guidance for schools on RSE ahead of it becoming compulsory in 2020 in England. In Wales, updated guidance on RSE will be released and planning continue by the Welsh Government on the inclusion of RSE in the new Wales school curriculum. 

As we head for the one year anniversary of our Invisible No Longer report into women’s experiences of HIV, we’re continuing our work with Sophia Forum to ensure that women are central in the HIV response. Look out for a continuation of this work in early summer with the release of a Spotlight Report on women that we have been working with Public Health England on.

Following the success of our Uncharted Territory and Invisible No Longer policy research reports, we will be further developing our peer-led research design model. Individuals impacted by the focus of research must be in the driving seat. We’ll be sharing our experience of working with the peer researcher model and building further capacity amongst people living with, or affected by HIV. 

Last but not least, we need to collectively keep pushing to ensure that the HPV vaccination programme for boys and for gay and bisexual men is implemented effectively in England and Wales. The vaccine is highly effective at preventing genital warts as well as HPV-related cancers, including throat, anal and penile. 

Without a doubt, 2019 will be a key year for HIV and broader sexual health in the UK with important decisions being made that will inform the progress we can make in the years to come. Yes, the political uncertainty is problematic, but it also brings opportunities to push things forward. 

Here’s to a year of agitating, educating and influencing for positive change… we hope you can join us!  

  • Debbie Laycock is Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust. 
  • Laura Scott is Research Officer at Terrence Higgins Trust.