Forty years after the start of the HIV pandemic, it is now within reach to end all new HIV infections in Sussex by the year 2030.
Currently, across both Brighton & Hove and West Sussex, 99% of those diagnosed with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment and more than 98% of those have an undetectable viral load, which means they cannot pass the virus on.
These successes are in part due to making testing readily accessible. Across Brighton & Hove, for example, a world-first Trust initiative, ‘HIV testing in the community’ has helped contribute towards a reduction in the proportion of new diagnoses that are recently acquired HIV infections from 33% in 2018 to 8% in 2021.
‘HIV testing in the community’, which was established by consultants from University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (UHSussex) in partnership with The Martin Fisher Foundation, use a smart vending machine to dispense free HIV self-testing kits, giving a result in just 15 minutes from a single drop of blood.
Dr Amanda Clarke, HIV consultant at UHSussex said: “These machines are located in multiple venues across Brighton & Hove to make them accessible to everyone across the city. They also help to normalise HIV testing and reduce the proportion of individuals who remain unaware of their diagnosis; we really want everyone to know their HIV status.”
“If people are aware of their HIV status, they can access the treatment they need – whether HIV treatment or HIV prevention, including Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) if they are at risk of acquiring HIV. Moreover, someone living with HIV, who takes effective treatment cannot pass the virus on and can live a normal life.
“Our hospitals have been involved in hundreds of clinical trials throughout the years, and our patients have been amazing at putting themselves forward to participate in studies and help with the incredible advances we have seen in treatment and prevention in this field,” added Dr Clarke.
Dr Emma Rutland, an HIV and Sexual Health Consultant at UHSussex, who runs clinics across West Sussex, where some 750 patients are accessing treatment for HIV, said: “A joined up approach through the Sussex HIV Network has been instrumental to ensuring high-quality care for all people living with HIV, including a focus on living well with HIV. This collaborative way of working has undoubtedly contributed to improved outcomes for people living with HIV.”
However, achieving zero HIV-associated discrimination and stigma remains a significant challenge. In 2017, 31% of a sample of people living with HIV in the South East were worried that they were treated differently from other patients in healthcare settings.
As one initiative to address these concerns, on World AIDS Day 2021, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust is launching an ‘HIV Allies’ project to become a stigma-free hospital Trust.
Eileen Nixon, Consultant Nurse at UHSussex, said: “There are serious health consequences if patients avoid treatment or decline HIV testing due to fears of stigma and discrimination in healthcare. We are proud to be leading on several stigma-reducing projects across our hospitals and the local health economy. This includes championing colleagues to come forward as HIV Allies and work with us to help create a safe space for people living with and affected by HIV, and reduce experiences of HIV stigma in our hospitals.”
Dame Marianne Griffiths, Chief Executive, UHSussex, said: “As an HIV Ally, I am incredibly proud of the exceptional work my colleagues across the Trust have achieved in leading the way to zero new HIV transmissions and zero stigma and discrimination by 2030. Respect and compassion are two of our core values, and we are committed to ensuring that all our patients, regardless of their HIV status, are treated with the outstanding care that our hospitals are known for.”