Leeds, a global fast-track city since February 7 last year, has unveiled a grants programme aimed at supporting communities and residents grappling with HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and viral hepatitis. The initiative, launched during National HIV Testing Week, marked the city’s commitment to collaborating with other global cities to eradicate new cases of HIV, TB, and viral hepatitis by the end of the decade.

The cornerstone of this commitment is community involvement, now further strengthened by the Leeds Fast-Track Cities communities grants programme. Managed by Leeds City Council, BHA Leeds Skyline, and MESMAC, this initiative will provide grants of up to £700 to Leeds-based groups. These grants are intended to encourage individuals to share their lived experiences, particularly regarding stigma and discrimination, and the impact on those living with HIV, TB, or viral hepatitis. For more information, visit the Fast Track Cities Leeds Community Grants page on BHA for Equality’s website (thebha.org.uk).

Leeds stands as one of the first Fast-Track Cities in the UK dedicated not only to ending HIV but also to eliminating viral hepatitis and TB, recognizing the potential for co-targeting these conditions.

In anticipation of National HIV Testing Week’s ‘I Test’ campaign starting on February 5, the council and health partners urge people to avail themselves of free, quick, and confidential tests available throughout Leeds. Online testing is also available nationwide through www.freetesting.hiv.

Emphasizing the significance of testing, health authorities highlight that individuals can live with HIV for an extended period without showing symptoms. In the UK, those diagnosed with HIV can access free treatment and support, ensuring their well-being and preventing transmission. Regular testing contributes to reducing the number of undiagnosed HIV cases and associated health issues from late diagnosis.

The testing campaign in Leeds is a collaboration between Yorkshire MESMAC, the Leeds Sexual Health Service, and support from Leeds City Council.

Leading the Fast-Track City leadership group is Dr Sarah Schoeman, Sexual Health and HIV Consultant at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, with Tom Doyle, CEO of Yorkshire MESMAC, as the co-chair.

The Fast-Track City initiative has brought together various partners in Leeds, fostering collaboration to develop workstreams. These include implementing opportunistic testing across different sectors and engaging high-risk populations. Subgroups under the leadership group focus on key areas: data and intelligence, stigma reduction, and testing and prevention.

Celebrating its first anniversary as a fast-track city, Leeds follows the announcement in December last year, designating Leeds General Infirmary and St. James’s University Hospital as part of a £20 million National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) project. This initiative targets the identification of undiagnosed HIV, Hepatitis B, and C in 46 additional emergency departments across 32 high HIV prevalence areas.

Leeds City Council executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles Councillor Salma Arif said; “One year on from signing up to be a fast-track city, we are determined to keep making progress to help and support people to make their lives better, and at the heart of that is listening to people’s lived experiences so we want to hear from as many people and communities as possible in this new grants programme. As it is National HIV Testing week too we encourage people to take the free testing in person or by ordering online to reduce the number of people living with undiagnosed HIV and help them get any treatment and support they may need.”

Tom Doyle, CEO of Yorkshire MESMAC, the charity that delivers the citywide sexual health improvement programme, and Vice Chair of Fast Track Cities Leeds said; “Becoming a Fast-Track City allows us to take a fresh look at how we do testing across Leeds, exploring how the TB, Hepatitis and HIV outreach programmes can work closer together to offer more tests, to more people, in more places in the most appropriate way. This approach will improve our reach and improve access, especially to the most at risk and most marginalised.”

Dr Sarah Schoeman, Sexual Health and HIV Consultant at Leeds Sexual Health and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and Chair of Fast Track Cities Leeds said; “This week marks our one year anniversary as a Fast Track City alongside national HIV testing week. We are extremely proud that as a city this means we have signed up to working towards the elimination of new HIV, viral hepatitis and TB infections and stigma related to these by 2030. During our first year as a Fast Track City we have strengthened our partnerships locally, nationally and internationally, and have worked to identify gaps and opportunities to develop our next actions.

“We have lots more planned for our second Fast Track City year including more access to testing, more community engagement and more anti-stigma work. We are more united and focused than ever to ensure that we achieve our 2030 goals.”