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Migrants are at risk of being left behind in the UK’s response to HIV


4 min read

If we are to end new cases of HIV by 2030, we need to reach every community with our HIV response – this includes those born abroad and living in London as well as the rest of the UK.

This year we mark 40 years since the first reported cases of what we now know was AIDS and the subsequent discovery of HIV.

Since then, we’ve made big progress in the fight against HIV in the UK. New cases have fallen by over a third in the last five years and diagnoses among gay and bisexual men have nearly halved. The extraordinary advances in HIV treatment now mean the majority of people living with HIV can now assume a normal life expectancy and, even more remarkably, those on effective treatment with an undetectable viral load can’t pass it on.

But this success isn’t shared equally by all groups; UK residents born outside the UK are at real risk of being left behind in the UK’s response to HIV.

As the MP for Vauxhall, a central London constituency with a large migrant population and one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence in the country, I’m urging the government to include migrants living in the UK as a key population in its HIV Action Plan to end transmissions by 2030. We must also build on this plan with our own coordinated approach in London, led by our Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Fears around being charged for NHS services and data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office mean many migrants delay accessing healthcare

A recent report by the UK’s HIV rights charity National AIDS Trust, HIV and migration, highlights the barriers faced in London by people who were born abroad, when accessing HIV testing, treatment and care. HIV is a public health inequality which disproportionately affects migrants. Indeed, the majority of HIV diagnoses in 2019 in the UK were among people born abroad.

We’ve seen with the Windrush Scandal how the hostile environment policies this government has implemented can harm migrants living in the UK. They deter people from accessing healthcare including HIV testing and treatment, which increases the likelihood of late diagnosis, poor health outcomes, and mortality. This is despite the fact that HIV treatment and testing is free for everyone regardless of their immigration status. Fears around being charged for NHS services and data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office mean many migrants delay accessing healthcare, resulting in complex healthcare needs in an already vulnerable population.

Hostile environment policies outside of healthcare also have an impact on the health and wellbeing of migrants living with or at risk of HIV. Many migrants subject to immigration control have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), which means they are unable to access the majority of welfare benefits. There’s no safety net for them if they lose their job, or if a pandemic like Covid-19 happens. The High Court has declared the Home Office’s NRPF policy to be unlawful and a breach of Human Rights Law which fails to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Some migrants also don’t have the right to work. Unable to earn money, some can’t afford food or travel to hospital appointments. These policies drive many into poverty, forcing them into destitution where they are less likely to be able to prioritise their health or HIV treatment. Not enough is known about the impact these policies have on the overall health of our nation, and the Health and Social Care Committee must investigate the impact of NRPF and lack of permission to work on individual and public health.

People born abroad aren’t being supported to test for HIV proactively. Awareness of the HIV prevention drug PrEP among migrants is far too low. The government has committed to end new cases of HIV by 2030. If we are to be successful, we need to reach every community with our HIV response – this includes those born abroad and living in London as well as the rest of the UK. 

 

Florence Eshalomi is the Labour MP for Vauxhall.

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