HIV is for life, not just World Aids Day

An HIV and health activist explains why he won't be wearing a red ribbon today.

It's that time of year again. In the past week I've been asked to flash my red pants for Aids awareness (I don't wear any); buy a fundraising red ribbon cupcake (I bake my own); and take part in a world-record-breaking HIV testing event in Soho (I had a test last month).

I'll put bets on who will have the glitziest red ribbon brooch on X Factor on Saturday (Gary); I'll guarantee (once again) that every well-meaning HIV exhibition where I work and study won't show images of gay men (apart from the stock holding-hands-taken-from-behind photo); and it'll be a sure-fire thing that a celebratory C-lister (probably white; probably straight; probably a woman) with a new single to sell will be the voice of HIV -- but just for today...

Please excuse my cynicism: it's World Aids Day again.

Despite the good news stories -- and, for once in the 30-year history of HIV, there are many -- once the red ribbons are packed away for another year (and there will be many more years), it will be business as usual. Business as usual for the millions of people throughout the world without access to HIV treatments; business as usual for the millions of people with no access to ways of preventing HIV or being tested for it; business as usual for the people with HIV, or at risk of acquiring it, who will continue to face stigma and discrimination; and business as usual for the millions of activists, educators, health workers and policy-makers around the world -- many of whom are living with HIV themselves -- for whom every day is "world Aids day".

Behind the fundraising events, the cake bake-offs and the world-record attempts lies the reality of many people with HIV or at risk of it. Despite the astonishing break-through in "new science" in the past two years, international funding for HIV treatment and prevention looks set to plummet as the Global Fund cuts funding for life-saving HIV treatment across Africa.

In the UK, new research from Sigma Research shows that Africans living with HIV face isolation and rely heavily on professional support services: the very health and social-care services that are at the forefront of cutbacks and budget constraints.

And data released this week from the Health Protection Agency shows that HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men in the UK are at the highest levels ever. Although some of the increase can be ascribed to recent drives to promote HIV testing (another of those good news stories), these data follow several years of cuts in local NHS funding to HIV prevention programmes for gay men. Last year the pan-London HIV prevention programme for gay men saw cuts of 20 per cent.

So, once again this year I won't be wearing a red ribbon (and I acknowledge that for many other they serve as a symbol of remembrance), flashing my undies nor marking World Aids Day. Instead, I'll be joining the millions of others around the world who research, lobby, campaign and educate around HIV. It'll be a day like any other day: business as usual.

Will Nutland is a doctoral student researching the acceptability of pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis among gay men in London. He used to be head of health promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.