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HIV Global Epidemic: Young People

Volume 777: debated on Thursday 1 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to tackle the global HIV epidemic among adolescents and young people from key populations.

My Lords, our youth framework puts young people at the centre of international development efforts. Tackling youth HIV, including among key populations, is critical to ending AIDS as a public health threat. Our investments support young people to make safe, healthy and informed choices to protect themselves, and their peers, from HIV and other life-threatening illnesses.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am also pleased to see so many red ribbons being worn today on World AIDS Day. We know that HIV and AIDS have a disproportionate effect on the most marginalised groups in society, particularly men who have sex with men, drug users, transgender people and sex workers. Such people might not be able to access services which are integrated into our broader health systems for the obvious reason that in some cases they may be in jail. Is the Minister prepared to review DfID’s approach to HIV in both its HIV-specific programmes and in its programmes which address HIV within broader health and development interventions?

The noble Lord and I had a very interesting afternoon yesterday when we attended the Stop AIDS conference. Some incredible presentations were given, with a lot of information. Given that HIV is such a huge health threat globally as well as in this country, it is essential that we do everything and remain open to new information when it comes. We are the second-largest contributor to the Global Fund, which is doing tremendous work in this area—£1.1 billion was announced in July. But there is more to be done. An international development committee report on this issue is currently with the Secretary of State and I will certainly feed in those views and see what more can be done.

My Lords, is it not absolutely essential that this country should use all the means at its disposal to get our Commonwealth partners, in the overwhelming majority of whose countries homosexuality is sadly still a criminal offence, to repeal their cruel and inhumane laws in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth charter, to which they have all signed up? Is it not impossible to organise effective health campaigns in countries where being gay is criminalised?

My noble friend is absolutely right in this respect. You need open societies. Good health promotion initiatives can happen only in open societies where people can talk freely. You would have thought that that message would have got through. Sadly, it has not reached everyone. We need to be sensitive because, at the same time as addressing the issues with our Commonwealth partners, we also need to continue to have access and to work with them to help the people who need that help. My noble friend Lady Verma held a very useful round-table meeting at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Valletta, Malta, last year. When the Commonwealth Heads of Government come to the UK in 2018, I very much hope that we will follow up on that work.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that prevention is always better than cure? Does he also agree that the advent of an effective treatment for AIDS has spread the news that it is no longer necessary to practise safe sex? Will he therefore ensure that prevention in the form of barrier methods of contraception that have a double purpose, such as condoms and the diaphragm, are promoted alongside the treatment for AIDS?

We will certainly do that. In fact, the areas of the world where we are seeing levels of infection increase are often in eastern and central Europe, where the issue is with injecting drugs. Good health promotion initiatives with that key population group are also important and are all part of the effort to eradicate AIDS.

My Lords, the high rates of HIV infection among young women in Africa, in particular, reflect, at least in part, their powerlessness in terms of sexual relationships. Does the Minister agree that this accentuates the need for DfID programmes that focus on the education and empowerment of young women to be continued?

That is absolutely right and it is what we are focusing on. I think I am right in saying that HIV is still the largest killer of adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa. We need to move much further in that area. That is why it is encouraging that the Global Fund is spending a large proportion of its money in low-income countries. At the same time, we need to provide better civil society networks and social networks that can help young people when those tragedies happen so that they can access treatment and antiretrovirals. As my noble friend Lord Prior will be saying, people can have a better quality of life here living with AIDS, and that should be more widely available in southern Africa as well.

My Lords, PEPFAR and the Global Fund are of crucial importance across the world. Will the British Government encourage the incoming Administration in the United States to maintain the levels of funding and not diminish them?

We must give credit to PEPFAR, and to George W Bush, who set it up, for the work it has done around the world in tackling this disease. Certainly, that would be our expectation. We have a very close working relationship with USAID in this area and we fully expect that it will continue, into the future, to tackle and achieve the global goal of eradicating HIV as a public health threat by 2030.

My Lords, good nutrition is important for all of us, but it is particularly important for those living with HIV or AIDS. Can my noble friend say what is being done to ensure that there are proper trigger points when DfID is providing aid so that nutrition is taken as a key point, particularly when treatments cause wastage, lipid malabsorption and other issues to do with dietary needs?

My noble friend is right to point to this. When we look at HIV strategies and DfID’s work around the world and with our partners in the World Health Organization, it is very dangerous to see them siloed. Strategies must be cross-cutting, across all the interventions and all the humanitarian responses which we have to this disease, to bring hope and prevention in the attempt to eradicate AIDS by 2030.