On World Aids Day we remember the 39 million people who have already tragically lost their lives to Aids. Fortunately, treatment now exists so that contracting HIV does not mean a death sentence, at least in this country and the majority of the developed world. However, in far too many places treatment still remains out of reach for far too many people. Last year 1.5 million people died of Aids. That figure is unacceptable. HIV is a lifelong manageable condition and should not be leading to premature deaths in the millions.
‘Access Denied’, a report launched today by the all party parliamentary group on HIV and Aids, highlights this modern tragedy of epic proportions: that in a world where treatment exists and where a person with HIV can live a long and healthy life, millions are still dying as they cannot access this treatment. It is a stark warning to governments, including the United Kingdom’s, that if we fail to address the barriers to access we will ultimately lose the battle to control and end the epidemic.
Children in particular continue to be left behind, with 76 per cent of kids living with HIV unable to access treatment because they do not represent a lucrative sales market for the pharmaceutical industry –people need to come before profits. The report calls on the UK government to take decisive action to enable the creation of a global fund for research and development. This fund would allow governments throughout the world to direct the research agenda so that public health needs are placed before profits. As we are currently seeing with ebola, neglected areas of disease can pose a health threat to all of us; we ignore this risk at our own peril and to the detriment of millions of lives.
Our all-party parliamentary group was also extremely concerned that many people living with HIV were on unsuitable treatment as the most modern monitoring was not available to them. For example, in India, where the UK government has already decided to pull its funding and there is an HIV epidemic of around two million people, very few people are able to access a viral load test. Viral load testing is the gold standard of HIV treatment available and is the only effective way to prevent resistance to treatment by monitoring the level of the virus in the HIV patient’s blood. During our inquiry we discovered people were literally dying while waiting for this test. Clearly there is an issue with funding in middle income countries like India that we cannot ignore, particularly when HIV prevalence is so great in many of these countries.
With upwards of 55 million people expected to need HIV treatment by 2030 we cannot afford to be complacent. High drug prices, lack of access to viral load testing, weak and ineffective health and drug distribution systems, punitive legislation and lack of R&D into paediatric drugs are barriers that must be addressed. The UK has a key role to play in leading the global investment in the battle against HIV, and ensuring that we do not take our foot off the pedal when we have the opportunity to win the war and create an Aids-free generation.
Pamela Nash MP is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and Aids. She tweets @pamela_nash
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