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Baroness Liz Barker has been a member of the House of Lords since 1999. She is Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV/AIDS and has been a longstanding campaigner for people living with HIV in the UK and globally.

What are your thoughts on the majority of new HIV diagnoses now occurring within the straight population?

The LGBTQIA+ community has been targeted with messaging for so long that the base level of information is very high. In the straight community, particularly Black-African communities, the same thing has not happened. Those communities are still disproportionately affected by stigma. There isn’t the open dialogue and messaging that there is within the LGBTQIA+ community. In the Global South HIV has long been largely a condition which impacts straight people. It’s a lesson to us in the UK to be vigilant at home and abroad, as well as not resting on the laurels of past successes.

The population living with HIV is growing older. How do we ensure their voices are heard?

Over 30 years ago in Age Concern we did the very first report about elder people living with HIV and it’s interesting to see other organisations returning to that. The other day I was back in the building that was London Lighthouse, remembering those early times. Firstly, we need to remember that the virus doesn’t discriminate on grounds of age. Secondly, to rejoice that people are now living with HIV, but are ageing with a number of chronic conditions, of which HIV is just one. Therefore, we need to be mindful of drug interactions. There isn’t, for example, much research on the impact of HIV on older women and the menopause. We need further research, because HIV is now a condition where people can have a healthy and happy old age.

Would the entire UK benefit from a national HIV campaign, just as Scotland recently did?

I think it would be good to have a timely reminder that HIV has not gone away. We would need to be clear about what messages need to get through to whom. Back in the day there was one message to everybody, it was a dire warning but it was one strong message. Today we would want to say something to young people as part of a general message about sexual health and being safe in all sort of different ways around sexual and reproductive health. For other people we might need to look at more targeted messages and about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Having another campaign would be good to focus minds, but we would need to be clear about what we would like to achieve.

Which developments around HIV prevention, treatment and care excite you the most?

PrEP is a game-changer. We need to make PrEP more widely available and accessible all over the country and not just in the gay community, but to other groups. Also, opt-out testing, which has been an absolute success. The figures are showing us that in terms of finding people who don’t know their status, or about pathways to care, it is so effective at picking those people up. The net savings to the NHS are absolutely clear. We need to roll this out to other areas as fast as possible.

Do you have a short message to GAY TIMES readers for World AIDS Day?

We’re still standing and better than we ever did. We have a lot to celebrate, not just in terms of the efficacy of treatment and access, but in terms of quality of life. For people living with the virus, they live with it as a minor but important factor in their daily lives. We really shouldn’t take our eyes off the ball in terms of prevention, from a UK and global perspective. We should not assume that progress is linear. We need to keep working away at this and we still need to pressure our Government to fund things which work at home and also to keep funding research and development internationally.