Scotland ‘falling behind’ rest of UK in preventing new HIV cases

A Holyrood committee heard the Scottish Government is ‘long overdue’ in publishing a funded action plan to meet national targets.

Scotland ‘falling behind’ rest of UK in preventing new HIV cases, experts warn PA Media

Experts have warned that Scotland is falling behind the rest of the UK in plans to eradicate new HIV transmission.

Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee heard that delays in tackling the stigma of the virus and a national action plan to prevent the spread is setting back “gamechanging” progress.

Scotland was the first nation in the UK to roll out the PrEP (pre-expose prophylaxis) medication on the NHS in 2017.

Research in 2021 found new diagnoses of the virus in gay and bisexual men had fallen by 20% since its introduction.

The Scottish Government now has a national target to prevent new cases of HIV by 2030.

Figures released by Public Health Scotland last year showed there were 317 diagnoses in 2022 – 108 of which were classed as new, first-ever infections.

However, experts warned the Scottish Government must ramp up efforts to stamp out stigma associated with the diagnosis, particularly in the health and social care sector, amid fears it could prevent people coming forward for treatment or testing.

Alan Eagleson, head of services at the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland – an HIV and sexual health prevention charity – said a funded action plan on achieving zero transmission by 2030 was promised in the SNP’s 2021 manifesto commitment.

He told the Holyrood committee that strategy was now “long overdue”.

He said: “The Scottish Government must refocus and match the words with action and investment. The publication of a funded action plan has been long promised and is long overdue. This needs to be delivered as a matter of urgency.

“If we are to achieve ending new cases of HIV by 2030 we need to tackle the inequalities that still exist.

“We have the opportunity to lead the way, not only in the UK but across the world, but we are letting this moment pass us at rapid pace.

“The reality is that in Scotland we have fallen behind other UK nations in our HIV response. We all know what the end goal is … but we don’t yet have a published plan for how to achieve this or the funding resource to make this ambition a reality.

“If we are to be successful in reaching our 2030 goal we need equitable progress across all communities impacted by HIV and sustainable investment to match this.”

Professor Claudia Estcourt, professor of sexual health and HIV at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “Scotland was the first country in the union to roll out a national programme of PrEP in 2017. We were gamechangers at that point and we have slid back since then.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s HIV transmission elimination plan is expected to be published soon.

“It is important that we get the details right and we have been working to ensure that the deliverables within the plan are achievable and those who are responsible for these are onboard.”

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