Ray Collins on tackling the threat to specialist services for those living with HIV
Like every gay man the emergence in the 1980’s of HIV/AIDS changed my life, It forced me to deal with grief and loss when I least expected it, made me determined to value the quality of life and fight harder against ignorance and prejudice.
That’s why I’m proud to be a Patron of Positive East – London's largest community-based HIV charity. Every year more than 10,000 people walk through their doors for support and advice. They do so in the knowledge that they'll receive a warm and friendly welcome. For over 20 years they have successfully provided a range of practical and emotional support services for people in East London living with and affected by HIV.
Tonight, I’m hosting an event in the Lords to launch a report from Positive East based on the views and experiences of those living with HIV. What I have learnt most from these first hand testimonies is that whilst treatment has progressed, society’s attitudes to HIV have not.
The reality for the growing number of people living with HIV is exceptional levels of stigma and discrimination, including when using public services. Levels of poverty and unemployment remain high. Many also face a variety of associated health problems, including mental and physical illnesses. People continue to face the damaging effects of isolation, and the hurdles and gaps in accessing primary care and support services more generally.
The new report is based on in-depth discussions with 66 of Positive East’s service users, collected in a dozen focus groups held in recent months across the seven local authority boroughs that the organisation currently serves. The individuals involved are largely from marginalised communities and Positive East is directly involved in their personal struggles.
Current reforms provide a unique opportunity to get services right for people living with HIV and Positive East hope’s that its new report will provide information and insight to policy makers and commissioners responsible for bringing about wider change. My concern, raised previously in the Lords, is that in this period of uncertainty, specialist services supporting people living with HIV may be at risk and their voices not properly heard. Failure to deal with such issues will risk health, wellbeing and quality of life.
Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is a member of Labour’s frontbench in the House of Lords
Published 29th October 2013