The BBC has reported that up to £3.4m has been provided for a new three-year HIV prevention programme in the UK capital, London. This programme, aimed at gay men and African communities, will include both outreach work and distribution of condoms.
Dr Yvone Doyle, London regional director for Public Health England, said that HIV “continues to be a major public health problem in London. Men who have sex with men and black African heterosexuals remain the groups with the highest HIV prevalence in London and it is important that there are cohesive and collaborative services across the city to supper them.”
The response by the London Councils follows a study which found diagnoses of the virus rose by 8% between 2011 and 2012, to 2,832 cases.
So, in London there is significant funding found by local councils to work to prevent the transmission of HIV because of an increase of 8%. I wonder what statistics will be published here in Northern Ireland in the next few weeks. It is usual for the Public Health Agency to issue statistics in or around World AIDS Day on 1 December.
Last year we were told that the increase in annual new diagnoses in Northern Ireland between 2000 and 2011 at 332% was the highest of the UK countries in the same period. It seems to me that there is a prevention problem here in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister for Health, Social Services & Public Safety, Edwin Poots MLA of the DUP, will find money to spend on HIV prevention here in Northern Ireland.
It certainly would seem to be a better use of his department’s money than spending it on legal costs – and there has been plenty of money spent on that in recent years as we found out this week thanks to a written question asked by Jim Allister MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Last year the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety itself spent £1,594,668 – to say nothing of the Health & Social Care Trusts or Arms Length Bodies.
Even in the last couple of days it has been reported that the Health department has to pay the bill for the FPA’s legal costs in its case regarding the issuing of guidelines for abortions here. These costs are said to be approximately £50,000.
Some of the legal costs faced by the Health Department appear to be because of the Minister’s apparent homophobia.
More than 30 years ago, gay men lit the first spark that kindled the world’s response to the AIDS epidemic. Thanks to the audacity and courage of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, we have now seen extraordinary progress against AIDS around the world. However, stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity still drive new HIV infections and are an obstacle to treatment efforts in every part of the world.”
As we approach World AIDS Day on 1 December, with UNAIDS’ emphasis on getting new diagnoses down to zero by 2015, I hope that the Minister of Health will get over his apparent homophobia and find some money for a public information and prevention campaign to reduce the transmission of HIV in Northern Ireland to zero.