Words: Will Stroude
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan today vowed to help end new HIV transmissions in capital by 2030.
The Labour politician, who is seeking re-election on 6 May, pledged to work "tirelessly" to achieve the goal of eliminating new transmissions of the virus in the capital by the end of the decade should he secure a second term in office.
On Thursday (25 March), Mr Khan met with 23 LGBTQ+ organisations during a virtual discussion hosted by Labour’s Shadow Minister for Schools, Wes Streeting, to hear their concerns about life for London's vulnerable LGBTQ communities.
During his first term in office, Mr Khan signed London up to the UN Fast Track Cities initiative, which aims to end new HIV transmissions in the capital after 2030 by working with partners across the city, with an 80% reduction by 2025.
"We need to make more progress."
Speaking to Attitude following the pledge, Mr Khan said that he was "optimistic" that the 2030 goal could be achieved, and that it would not become a "kick the can down the road commitment".
"Last year we had a 10% reduction in new cases of HIV: We’ve managed to reduce it from about 6000 new cases to about 4100, but we need to make more progress", said Khan, 50.
"Regular testing is really important; we’ve got to get rid of the stigma around HIV tests. I’ve already been tested twice - basically to get rid of the stigma, as well as wanting to know.
"I think we have to get rid of the stigma around testing, because by being tested regularly you know if you have HIV, and if you do you can get the drugs early doors so you can live a long, meaningful life."
Mr Khan, who previously joined LGBTQ groups in calling on the government to make PrEP freely available on the NHS, said that continuing to make the HIV prevention drug "as easily accessible to those that want it, with the right information", was another "key" factor in ensuring the target's success.
Asked if he supported PrEP being made available at high street pharmacies, similar to the female contraceptive pill, Mr Khan replied: "Absolutely".
He continued: "It should be available. We should try and normalise the use of PrEP, with information as well.
"But also, it saves money, because the cost of making PrEP available for free in places [that are] easily accessible, saves a huge amount of money [compared to] anti-retroviral drugs should somebody get HIV. And so to me, prevention is very important.
"That is why we need Attitude readers to continue with us to lobby the government, to make sure not only is PrEP available freely in London, but PrEP is available in place easily accessible to the community."
Mr Khan's pledge to help reduce new HIV transmission to zero in London by 2030 has been welcomed by leading sexual health charities.
Richard Angell, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "Sadiq Khan’s clear commitment to ending new HIV cases in the capital by 2030 is important – this life-changing goal won’t be achieved by accident.
"We particularly welcome his pledge to reduce by 80% new HIV diagnoses in the city by 2025 – which was one of the HIV Commission’s core recommendations – as it means the necessary action can’t be kicked into the long grass.
"The capital has the highest prevalence of HIV in the country and more than 40% of the gay and bisexual men diagnosed in 2019 were in London. That’s why it is fundamental that the Mayor of London takes action and the city continues to be a leader on HIV both in the UK and globally."
Mr Angell continued: "To achieve our goal of ending new HIV cases this decade, we need to see the HIV Commission’s recommendations put into action. That includes HIV prevention drug PrEP being available in the capital’s pharmacies and GP surgeries – something the Mayor of London could lead on – to make sure its potential is maximised not just in gay and bisexual men but all communities affected by HIV.
"We also want to see Londoners being properly engaged in HIV testing – the mayor could and should use Transport for London’s advertising space being utilised to champion National HIV Testing Week and similar initiatives. Together we can reach a point where testing for HIV is seen in the same way as going to the optician or a check-up at the dentist.
"This is a pivotal moment for HIV and we need to see leaders across the country stepping up to the plate – today is an important step forward."