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Call for major new drive to combat AIDS/HIV

Services for HIV/AIDS patients are “woefully inadequate”, says report

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 01 September 2011

The government should launch a major new prevention campaign to tackle the growth of HIV and AIDS in the UK, claims a report from a House of Lords committee. 

Current services for patients who are HIV positive or who have AIDS are “woefully inadequate”, says the report No vaccine, no cure: HIV and AIDS in the United Kingdom published today by the House of Lords select committee on HIV and AIDS. 

Peers called for more investment in HIV/AIDS services as well as a greater focus on and priority given to prevention of the disease and quicker diagnosis. 

The report, which is the culmination of an eight-month long inquiry, also marks the 25th anniversary of the Don’t Die of Ignorance public health campaign in 1986. 

Although new drug treatments since 1986 have helped to cut the death rate from AIDS, it remains one of the most serious public health issues confronting the government, says the report. 

The investigation found that by next year there will be over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK and the number of people accessing care has trebled since 2000.

Treatment costs have increased rapidly and now approach £1 billion a year and despite the fact that antiretroviral drugs have helped cut the death toll there is still neither a vaccine nor a cure. 

Ignorance is still an issue, says the report, which estimates that more than a quarter of those infected have not been diagnosed and are unaware of their condition.  

To help these individuals and to prevent the disease spreading further, better testing has to be a priority.

The peers argued that all new patients at GP surgeries and general medical admissions should be tested for AIDS on an “opt out” basis – where a test is carried out unless there is an objection – starting in areas where the prevalence of HIV is highest. 

Current spending on prevention was inadequate, said the peers, who pointed out that the government was spending £2.9 million annually on national prevention programmes, compared with £762 million on treatment. 

A new national campaign should be launched to tackle ongoing ignorance and misunderstanding of the disease, they recommended.  

The report also calls for GPs to become more involved in the care of their HIV-positive patients.  

It recommends the government work with specialists, GPs and patients to develop a strategy for GPs to take on shared responsibility for the care of HIV-positive patients. 

Chair of the committee Lord Fowler, who ran the original 1986 campaign, said: “People can now live with HIV but all of those infected would prefer to be without a disease which can cut short life and cast a shadow over their everyday living. Prevention must be the key policy.” 

A Department of Health spokesman said: “There is still no cure, and prevention and safe sex are still as vital as they were 25 years ago. We need to reduce undiagnosed HIV so testing in a variety health care settings is important - especially in high prevalence areas.”

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