AIDS and HIV prevention policies in Britain are “woefully inadequate” and must be improved, a House of Lords committee warned today. The report by the Lord Select Committee is published on the 25th anniversary of the 'Don't Die of Ignorance' campaign, a public health initiative launched to try to stem the spread of the virus.
This report came on the day that AIDS and HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust launched a new strategy to prevent the disease, which it says will reduce the number of new infections - currently about 7,000 a year - and tackle the £1 billion treatment costs. According to the HIV and AIDS committee there will be more than 100,000 people living with HIV by next year, with the number of people getting care having trebled since 2000. It warned AIDS and HIV remains one of the most serious public health issues Britain faces.
The Lords said that not enough money is spent on prevention - just £2.9 million compared with £762m spent on treatment. Preventing one infection can avoid a lifetime of treatment, estimated to cost between £280,000 and £360,000. Committee chairman Lord Fowler, who ran the 1980s awareness campaign, said HIV has “gone off the boil as an issue”.
The committee proposed all new patients at GP surgeries and general medical admissions should be tested, beginning in areas where HIV is most prevalent. It also called for a new national campaign to tackle the ignorance and misunderstanding that surrounds the illness. The Terrence Higgins Trust called for a renewed national commitment to HIV prevention, centered on four actions that will help to “turn this epidemic around.” These are halving undiagnosed and late diagnosed HIV within three years, increasing the number of people receiving effective HIV treatment, identifying those who persistently take risks that expose them to HIV and supporting them to change, and increasing people's awareness of HIV.
The charity's deputy chief executive Paul Ward said, “There is no cure for HIV and it is the fastest growing serious health condition in Britain, but we do not have to accept rising costs as inevitable.” He said any new campaign will need additional plans to target diagnosis, treatment and those who put themselves at risk of infection.
Lord Fowler continues, “Acquiring HIV is not remotely consequence-free. Serious medical and mental health problems remain for many with HIV. It leads to a lifetime of treatment. Many feel themselves isolated because of their condition; there are frequent examples of discrimination, ranging from sufferers being ostracised in their communities to people losing their jobs following disclosure of their HIV status. People can now live with HIV but all of those infected would prefer to be without a disease which can cut life short and cast a shadow over their everyday living. Prevention must be the key policy. One essential message remains the same as in the 1980s: the more the partners, the greater the risk. Protect yourself. Use a condom.”
Paul Ward added, “This renewed focus on HIV is extremely welcome and very timely. It draws greater national attention to HIV and is a wake-up call that, as a society, we can’t keep ignoring what is now the UK's fastest growing serious health condition. There are more people living with HIV than ever before, with an unacceptable number still undiagnosed and untreated.”
The Department of Health said that medical advances meant that many people with HIV were able to live near normal lives - an important factor in reducing stigma. A spokesman said, “We need to reduce undiagnosed HIV so testing in a variety health care settings is important - especially in high prevalence areas. The Department continues to fund the Terrence Higgins Trust and the African Health Policy Network prevention programmes. This is in tandem with targeted local NHS programmes.”