Just ahead of the 35th annual World AIDS Day, Sir Elton John gave a speech to assembled UK lawmakers on supporting new HIV testing strategies. “We can be the first country in the world to defeat this awful virus,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
With current technology, it’s certainly possible. But—he emphasized—the lawmakers who win the next general election must be willing to take up the responsibility. “I implore you not to waste your allotted time as political leaders,” John said. “Take action and push things a little further than might feel comfortable. And as you do, I can promise you this: I will be there with you.”
The speech was an imperative, but it was also a celebration of the “truly wonderful news” that the UK government is expanding a pilot program for automatic HIV testing. The initiative administers blood tests in accident and emergency departments (A&E) for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C (permitting patients to opt out).
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As well as commemorating those that we’ve lost, World AIDS Day gives us a chance to fight the still-existing stigma that surrounds PLWH.
“Automatic testing gets to people earlier, which means less HIV transmission, less illness, less death and by the estimate of health economists, 50 million pounds ($63 million) saved for the NHS,” said John.
According to Gay Times, the 18-month trial was conducted in 34 A&Es located in cities designated as particularly high risk. Now the government is putting £20 million behind a plan to expand that program to 46 additional A&Es.
“It’s hugely significant that an additional two million HIV tests will be carried out in A&Es over the next year thanks to a temporary but wholesale expansion of opt-out HIV testing to 46 additional hospitals,” Richard Angell, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said in a statement to Gay Times.
“With this landmark investment, opt-out HIV testing in A&Es will account for more than half of all tests in England. This major ramping up of testing is absolutely crucial to find the 4,400 people still living with undiagnosed HIV.”
The initiative is part of the government’s pledge to eradicate the HIV epidemic by 2030. While the US has made the same pledge, the Supreme Court has recently made HIV prophylactic drug PrEP harder to get.
Across the pond, Sir Elton John has reason to be optimistic. “I want to be back here in 2030 with all of you here and say, ‘You did it, we did it,’” John concluded. “Great Britain led the way in ending this disease.”
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