Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall talks to express about the Government’s new plan to end HIV transmissions in NZ by 2032.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall is ambitious.

Despite the commentary by pundits on her quick political ascent (the newly elected Verrall went straight into Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s cabinet after the 2020 election) the Associate Health Minister’s main ambition right now is to end HIV transmission in New Zealand by 2032.


The infectious-diseases physician and Cabinet Minister has been tasked with overseeing the Government’s new HIV action plan which is now open for community consultation.

The plan comes as New Zealand sees rapidly declining HIV infection rates (they have halved in the last six years from an all-time high in 2016) resulting in the country having one of the lowest HIV infection rates in the world.

While those rates have been declining, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men continue to make up the bulk of those who become infected.

Research from Dr Peter Saxton cited in the HIV action plan found that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men were 348 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than heterosexuals.

Dr Verrall says New Zealand’s declining HIV transmission rate is something to be proud of, but there is still more to do which is why the Government is focused now on an end to HIV infections.

Dr Verrall says the 2022 HIV action plan is the first since 2003 and the very first to have an elimination of new HIV transmissions target.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but one that is feasible,” Dr Verrall tells express.

Expanding eligibility to PrEP is central to the plan. PrEP usage has already risen sharply over the past few years, with three-month prescriptions increasing from 199 in March 2018, to 2839 in June 2022.

The action plan aims to expand testing (including more options to test at home) an increase in access to sexual health services, and improved services for Māori health.

“We need to make sure we reach groups that have previously not been reached. Part, but not all of the focus of [the plan] has to be on making sure we are doing more testing and providing elimination strategies for the Māori community for example” Dr Verrall tells express.

The plan also focuses on the elimination of stigma and discrimination. “That’s stopped so many people from getting treatment and that’s why it’s so important for this Government to address stigma and discrimination.” Dr Verrall says.

While the Burnett Foundation Aotearoa (formerly the NZAF) has historically served as the Government’s main partner in responding to HIV, Dr Verrall wouldn’t be drawn as to who the Government would partner with this time to help deliver on its new HIV elimination agenda.

“The action plan has been released for consultation and we need to hear from the community, the decisions on implementations are still to come,” Dr Verrall says.

“We have more options now in our new health system though. We’re not at the stage of writing contracts with anyone yet, because it’s still a draft plan.”

Dr Verrall is welcoming the community to have their say on the plan to ensure it meets expectations and is appropriate.

“We know how important it is to work with people living with HIV and impacted communities and we’re looking forward to hearing from everyone,” Dr Verrall tells express.

A copy of the draft HIV plan is available on the Ministry of Health website and there will be opportunities for face-to-face consultations in the coming weeks.