It has been a busy few months for both LGBT insurance company Emerald Life and HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust. This summer, Emerald launched a new partnership with the charity to donate 5% of premiums from customers who select that option. Steve Wardlaw, Emerald’s Chairman, spoke to Ian Green, CEO of Terrence Higgins Trust (on left in photo), at the charity’s offices to discuss some of the issues surrounding HIV in the UK and what the Trust is hoping to achieve.
Steve Wardlaw: Sitting here in your office, tell me about this piece of Keith Haring art.
Ian Green: Keith Haring was a hugely important artist in the early days of HIV/AIDS, promoting the need to talk about HIV/AIDS, in fact shout about it. While the old message of ‘Silence Equals Death’ is probably too blunt now, ‘silence’ in terms of a lack of education, or successful outreach, is still negatively affecting the health of communities. HIV remains a hugely stigmatised condition.
Steve: What do you mean by that? I thought that with meeting 90/90/90 – the UN target on treating those with HIV – we were making good progress?
Ian: Yes good progress is being made and this should be celebrated. But there is still much that needs to be done. So for instance, while a lot of gay men get the message, get tested and take PrEP or if diagnosed with HIV take anti-retrovirals (ARVs), too many people are still being infected every year. I recently heard that one London clinic has reported an increased number of younger gay men seroconverting. It may be through participating in chemsex, and so perhaps a more holistic view of sexual health education is needed
Steve: Now with the success of PrEP – although NHS England are still dragging their heels on proper roll-out – and ARVs in preventing HIV transmission, is there an ultimate target? Are we ready to talk about what might have seemed impossible only a few years ago?
Ian: Yes we are. First though we need to be tough on NHS England. The government promised more places on England’s PrEP trials. But the drug is freely available in Wales and Scotland. That’s putting people at risk of HIV here in England, and we have seen infections in people still waiting for a place on this trial – this needs fixing, and fast.
Steve: But the ultimate target?
Ian: Well this is exciting! We have just announced that we have a new target, which is the total eradication of HIV transmission in the UK by 2030. As part of that, we are, along with our colleagues at the National AIDS Trust, setting up a new independent commission headed by Dame Inga Beale to really understand what needs to be done to get to Zero HIV. We absolutely have all the tools available to us and we can see an end of new HIV transmissions in the UK within the next decade – who would have thought this possible?
Steve: That almost seems unbelievable…
Ian: I think a few years ago it was. Our campaign ‘It Starts With Me’ shows all the ways that we can prevent HIV infection, including PrEP but also talking about condoms, testing and treatment as prevention – we call this combination prevention. We also need to ensure that young people have the tools available to them to understand how they can be taking responsibility themselves.
Steve: Are we touching on the current furore on teaching children about LGBT relationships?
Ian: A bit, yes. SRE (sex and relationship education) is vital for all young people. But start making subjects taboo, such as LGBT issues, then you start having things that pupils can’t talk about.
Steve: Agreed – it’s a horrible thought that we may be backsliding on this. Anyway, any final remarks Ian?
Ian: Well, just a thank you to you and Emerald as well for the new partnership with Terrence Higgins Trust. It is great to partner with a company that is the industry leader in ensuring that people living with HIV have access to insurance products. We very much hope that the partnership will grow and be of real benefit to the charity!