Government minister Alistair Burt said: “On the STOPAIDS suggestion of a 22% cut, our response is that the report gives a snapshot of the figures in a given year and does not always reflect everything that is going on as programmes come to an end and others start.”
Just last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the UK government and its cuts to the sexual health sector, and its approach to combating HIV/AIDS.
He said: “Frequent testing and the HIV prevention drug PREP are major contributing factors, but in some parts of our country, cuts of more than 20% have already to GUM service closures, and £531 million more will be cut from the public health budgets in Parliament.
“These cuts will impact HIV transmission rates right at the moment our efforts are beginning to pay off. So the Tories must need their health cuts and we must make sure infection rates fall in all of our communities and in every country around the world.”
Government cuts to HIV prevention funding came under fire again this week, during a Parliamentary debate to mark World AIDS Day.
Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said: “Although the UK remains the second largest donor to the global HIV response, it is concerning that total DFID funding for HIV/AIDS declined by 22% between 2012 and 2015.
“Although the UK has increased funding through multilateral institutions such as the global fund, that has not made up for the sharp decline in funding for DFID country office programmes, which fell from £221 million in 2009 to £23 million in 2015.
“There has been a decline in DFID funding for civil society organisations, which do such important work on the ground to tackle AIDS and HIV. We should pay tribute to them and ensure that their work is funded properly.”
She questioned: “Does the Minister intend to stop that reduction in funding and to fund those organisations properly?”
SNP Chris Law also shared concern, adding: “Only last week, the World Health Organisation highlighted the fact that the number of new infections in Europe is growing at an ‘alarming rate’.
“In central Asia, infections have increased by more than half since 2010. Key populations, for example, men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who use drugs and sex workers, are disproportionately affected by HIV.
“A further challenge is the high price of intellectual property and drug prices, which remain a barrier for HIV patients’ access to medicine. UNAIDS predicts we would need an additional $7 billion annually to respond to the global HIV challenge.
“However, total DFID HIV funding decreased by 22% between 2012 and 2015, and the Department’s last strategy on HIV expired more than two years ago. It has no plans to renew it.
“Without a strategy, DFID has no way to set and communicate priorities or measure impact. I would therefore urge the Minister to increase overall levels of UK funding for the global HIV response, in line with UNAIDS recommendations, and to formalise and make public its approach to HIV.”
Alistair Burt – government minister – told Parliament that the UK government are still committed to HIV prevention, and also downplayed and defended the cuts to funding.
He said: “On the STOPAIDS suggestion of a 22% cut, our response is that the report gives a snapshot of the figures in a given year and does not always reflect everything that is going on as programmes come to an end and others start.
“It also does not reflect our huge multi-year global fund contribution. The timing of disbursements partly accounts for the difference in spend between years, but committing £2.4 billion since 2010 to multilateral funds is substantial.
“The other issue was integrating the funds and the tracking. DFID uses an HIV policy objective marker to track spending on HIV within broader programming. The system ensures that programmes address a range of developmental priorities, such as health-systems strengthening, governance, social protection and sexual, reproductive and health rights.”
He added: “I take the point that it is difficult to track, but it is important that we put the funds into integrated services, as well as spending them directly. There are the technical challenges of tracking, so let me take that away as well—not necessarily to change it, but to see what might be done better to give more transparency.
“We will keep the process of integrating the funds going. It is right and proper to do so, along with the other commitments that we make.”
Yuzuf Azad, Director of Strategy at the National AIDS Trust, said: “HIV remains a stigmatised and misunderstood condition. It’s not the same as other health issues where people can rely on support and sympathy from friends and colleagues.
“HIV support services can be the only place where people are open about their status, the only placed they can find advice and support, the only place they can talk to other people with HIV. They are an essential component of the long-term care of people with HIV. To remove them would leave a lot of vulnerable people stranded.”