December 1 is World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people to learn more about HIV and AIDS and the efforts around the world to address it. At Change Grow Live, the HIV Fast Track team are part of a major project to tackle HIV in London. Here, they explain how they’ll be helping to support people living with HIV.
Back in 2018, the Mayor of London agreed to make the city a part of the Fast Track Cities initiative. This project is about cities around the world putting new effort and resources into supporting people living with HIV and ending new infections entirely.
With the right treatment, people living with HIV can live a healthy life like anybody else. People living with HIV should be able to do that, and nobody should ever become so unwell that they die of AIDS.
What we hope to achieve
As a Fast Track City, London is now working towards ending new HIV infections in the city by 2030. Another goal we’re working towards is the UN’s 90:90:90 target, which means 90% of people with HIV being aware of their status, 90% of people in treatment, and 90% of people in treatment with an undetectable viral load. An undetectable viral load is when treatment has reduced the amount of HIV in someone’s body fluids to a level where it can’t be picked up by a standard blood test. The virus is still present, but at such a low level that it can’t be transmitted.
Earlier this year we applied for funding as a part of Fast Track Cities. We were awarded funding along with 11 other providers – some third sector and some charities, but all dealing with different areas around HIV. We’re the only substance misuse organisation currently involved.
Our HIV Fast Track team works across six Change Grow Live services in Ealing, Bromley, Camden, Waltham Forest, Newham, and Tower Hamlets. We work with individuals who are using drugs or alcohol who are also diagnosed with HIV. It’s a three-year project, and the idea is that we will support people to engage in their drug and alcohol support, but also to gain some stability around their HIV medication to eventually get their viral load undetectable.
This could mean working with HIV clinics to support people who are using one of our services for drug or alcohol use but aren’t engaging with HIV treatment. Or it could be the other way round. If someone is engaging with HIV medication but isn’t getting help for their substance misuse, clinics can refer that person to us. We’ll be working closely with the clinics and our other partners to make sure we’re really working in a joined-up way.
How we will approach challenges
One of the challenges will be encouraging people to engage with treatment. For instance, we’ll be looking to recruit more volunteers and peer mentors from a wide range of backgrounds to help us better communicate with different minority or ethnic groups.
We also know that the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) who access drug and alcohol services is very small. Often people either don’t think they have a problem, or they’re worried that the service won’t hear or understand them properly. Again, that’s where education and reducing stigma play an important part.
How we will share our learning
Currently the project is for a three-year period, but we’d like to expand this approach to other London boroughs where Change Grow Live operates. We also want to make sure that the whole organisation shares the new ways of working we put into place. That’s why our second workstream is around training. We want to train all of our teams to feel more comfortable and informed dealing with HIV, so that people get the best support. Eventually, we want to use everything we’ve learned to create a toolkit about how to engage with people living with HIV who also use drugs or alcohol. The idea is to share this toolkit across the whole drug and alcohol sector, so that everyone can benefit.
If you would like to find out more, please get in touch. We are interested in sharing knowledge and practices around the organisation, so that all of us can better support people living with HIV.
You can email us at [email protected].