With around 7000 people newly diagnosed with HIV every year in the UK and lifetime treatment costs soaring to an additional £1billion every year, Terrence Higgins Trust is launching ‘Tackling the Spread of HIV in the UK’, a plan to bring down HIV transmission and reduce the growing financial burden on the NHS at a time it can least afford it.
The charity, which has been at the heart of tackling HIV for almost thirty years, is calling for a renewed national commitment to HIV prevention centred on four achievable actions:
Halve undiagnosed and late diagnosed HIV within three years: A quarter of those living with HIV in the UK are unaware they have it. As well as damaging their health, this means they are more infectious and more likely to pass the virus on. Halving the number of people who are undiagnosed is achievable, will save lives and new infections and substantially cut future costs to the state.
Increase the numbers of all people on effective HIV treatment: If someone with HIV is taking treatment successfully, the virus is likely to be undetectable in their blood. This does not mean they are cured, but they are very much less likely to pass HIV to someone else. Increasing the numbers of all people on effective HIV treatment could have a significant impact on onward transmission.
Identify those who persistently take risks which expose them to HIV and support them to change: A minority of people at greatest risk of exposure to HIV take persistent risks, despite their likelihood of becoming infected. For these people, intensive support and access to behavioural change services like counselling and peer mentoring have proved highly effective and these need to be provided.
Set HIV prevention against a backdrop of widespread HIV awareness – It is vital, for HIV prevention efforts to succeed, that those at most risk of the virus get consistent messages about HIV and how to avoid it. Neither should the general population be neglected, particularly as the high levels of sexually transmitted infections in this group suggest safer sex is far from the norm. Every opportunity to reinforce prevention messages should be taken, particularly through structured and timely sex and relationships education in schools.
THT’s Deputy Chief Executive, Paul Ward, said of the charity’s new report: “Rising HIV infections are placing an increasing yet avoidable burden on the NHS which hard-pressed budgets can ill afford.
“There is no cure for HIV and it is the fastest growing serious health condition in the UK, but we do not have to accept rising costs as inevitable. By renewing our approach to HIV prevention in the UK, by properly involving communities, businesses, charities, individuals and the state we can turn this epidemic around.
“The ways in which we can diagnose and treat HIV have advanced a great deal in 30 years, and making a similar step-change in prevention is well within our grasp.”
Visit Tackling HIV in the UK to view THT’s full report