4 min read16 June
The world is sleepwalking towards a new AIDS emergency, and we need urgent action to get the response back on track. Government should start by reversing foreign aid cuts.
At the G7 Summit, I was proud to see the UK government at the forefront of driving action to end Covid-19 and advance pandemic preparedness. I am concerned by the UK and other G7 nations’ lack of urgency for other global pandemics, such as HIV and AIDS.
Pandemics can only be beaten together. Despite significant progress that leadership from the UK government has been instrumental in creating, AIDS remains the leading cause of death for women of a reproductive age. And although preventable, 1.5 million people acquired HIV last year, triple where the target was supposed to be.
Covid-19 is now threatening to reverse years of progress. For example, across facilities surveyed by the Global Fund around the world, HIV testing fell by over 40% in 2020. The world is sleepwalking towards a new AIDS emergency, and we need urgent action to get the response back on track.
The UK government hasn’t made this any easier by being the only G7 government to be cutting their spending on international aid
In the G7 Leaders’ communique, I was encouraged by calls to strengthen the global health security system “to be better prepared for future pandemics and to tackle long standing global health threats”. But the UK government hasn’t made this any easier by being the only G7 government to be cutting their spending on international aid.
As I said in the recent SO24 debate, this includes deep cuts to the funding for UNAIDS, Unitaid and UNFPA by over 80% respectively, and cutting global health R&D spending in half. Reduced funding for HIV bilateral programmes has also forced the closure of a number of vital HIV services.
In the G7 communique I was pleased to see recognition of The Global Fund and Unitaid’s crucial role in delivering lifesaving medical and other supplies for the Covid-19 response. It also highlights the work of these mechanisms that strengthens health systems, manages outbreaks and prevents disease spread. Indeed, the investments into the HIV response has better prepared countries to respond to Covid-19.
Whilst recognising the critical role of Unitaid in the Communique; the UK government recently announced its intention to cut its contribution from an expected £77 million in 2021 to just £6 million. Unitaid has directly contributed to the introduction of game-changing medicines and diagnostics for HIV and other conditions.
I was proud to serve on the HIV Commission which developed a set of recommendations to reach the important target of ending new HIV transmissions in England by 2030. We’ve seen huge progress and this important target is now within reach. But as over 150 cross-party parliamentarians and development experts warned last week, cutting the UK’s aid budget will risk setting the stage for a resurgence of the HIV & AIDS pandemic.
I am concerned it also risks jeopardising the UK’s own domestic prevention efforts. As we’ve clearly learnt from Covid-19, pandemics don’t respect borders. If we can’t control HIV globally, it’ll jeopardise our domestic efforts.
At last week’s UN High Level Meeting on HIV & AIDS, I welcomed the UK’s support for the Political Declaration and Minister Wendy Morton’s strong statement. Announcing increased funding for the Robert Carr Fund, she stressed that we should not leave anyone behind. Wendy is right, doing this is our moral duty, a public health necessity; and the only way to end the AIDS epidemic.
As G7 President and as a historic leader for the global HIV response, the eyes of the world are on the UK. Building off the important G7 communique, I urge the government to use the remainder of its G7 Presidency to drive forward action for the HIV response. It can do this by announcing supplementary allocations for HIV & AIDS; continuing as a leading donor to UNAIDS, UNFPA, Global Fund and Unitaid; and committing to a date when it will return its manifesto commitment on 0.7%.
Steve Brine MP is MP for Winchester and a former Health Minister.
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