Getting to Zero – Fast Track Cities London Conference

This week, our Chief Executive, Grant, is in London at the 2019 Fast Track Cities Conference. We caught up with him to hear what it’s all about.

What is Fast Track Cities?

Fast Track Cities is a partnership involving hundreds of cities around the world. It was launched in Paris in 2014 to encourage cities to take a leading role in the response to HIV.

Cities signing up to the initiative commit to action on HIV testing and treatment, while challenging stigma. UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets for 2020 are at the heart of the initiative, with the ultimate aim of getting to zero new infections and zero stigma.

What are you up to at the conference?

I’m attending as a member of the Leadership Board for Fast Track Cities Glasgow. Glasgow only signed up to Fast Track Cities on World AIDS Day last year so it’s a relative newcomer.

The conference is a fantastic way to hear about how cities around the world are approaching the challenges of reaching 90-90-90. It was also great to speak alongside Councillor Mhairi Hunter at a pre-conference session on the work we are all doing in the city to address the HIV outbreak affecting people who inject drugs.

What are the 90-90-90 targets?

90-90-90 refers to a series of global targets for HIV diagnosis and treatment. By 2020, the ambition is that 90% of people living with HIV have been diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed are on treatment and 90% of those on treatment have an undetectable viral load.

How is Scotland doing?

We’ve made some really good progress. We now know that Scotland met the 90-90-90 targets towards the end of last year, with 91% diagnosed, 98% of them accessing treatment, and 94% of them with an undetectable viral load.

Meeting these targets has been a great achievement but there’s still lots to do. We need to continue reaching out to the 9% of people who have not been diagnosed to get tested. The later people are diagnosed, the more likely they are to experience health issues and also to unknowingly pass HIV on to others.

Once people know their status, they can access specialist services and treatment that can help them become undetectable. This a hugely important as a person living with HIV, on treatment and with an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV on to sexual partners.

Where in Scotland has signed up?

So far Glasgow is the only Scottish city to officially sign up to the campaign. Earlier this month though, councillors in Aberdeen added their support, recommending that the Lord Provost signs on behalf of the city, so that should happen soon.

Although other cities haven’t signed up yet, we know from our work across Scotland that NHS teams are doing tremendous work, alongside Waverley Care and other organisations, to support people to access HIV testing, treatment and prevention services.

Can you tell us the most interesting thing you’ve learned at the conference?

That’s a difficult one as everything has been interesting. What has stood out for me is that all Fast Track Cities are dealing with similar challenges irrespective of where they are in relation to the UN targets.

The conference has highlighted for me the importance of addressing the underlying stigma, discrimination and inequalities that drive the HIV epidemic. There was a really interesting session on the needs of women and girls regarding HIV. It reinforced so strongly the key role gender inequality plays in both driving HIV amongst women and girls and also impacting adversely on women living with the virus.

Another session highlighted how we in the sector need to find a compelling narrative that highlights that there is still much more to do and that we want no one left behind. It’s easy to look at where Scotland and the UK is against the UN targets and think the job is done.