Letters: Strategy needed to deal with HIV epidemic

Today Lord Collins will raise a question in the House of Lords, asking why the government has no comprehensive strategy to deal with the increasing HIV epidemic in the UK.

The previous national HIV strategy expired in 2010 and so far the coalition government has failed to implement a new one. HIV remains one of the most serious infectious diseases affecting the UK. In London, one in every 200 people has HIV (What will this year be all about? Medicine: A cure for HIV?, 1 January).

Most people with HIV are still diagnosed late, after the point when they should have started treatment. They still experience stigma and discrimination and are more likely to struggle and live in poverty.

The government’s long-delayed sexual health policy document is due to include HIV; however, it is likely it will not cover HIV in its entirety. Getting sexual health right is part of the picture, but not the whole picture. There will be no guidance on other transmission routes, such as sharing injecting equipment and no discussion of HIV as a stigmatising long-term condition, or of the social care and poverty issues we must tackle. The National Aids Trust addressed these issues in its shadow HIV strategy for England, HIV – A Strategy for Success.

In April, HIV testing and prevention will become the responsibility of local authorities, while treatment and long-term care will continue to be looked after nationally by the NHS commissioning board, working with local GP-led clinical commissioning groups. In this changing environment, a lack of coherent leadership on HIV could spell disaster for the 100,000 people currently living with the disease, as well as those at risk of being infected.

We hope that when the minister responds to Lord Collins’ question, that we will at last have evidence this government is taking HIV seriously.
Yusef Azad
Director of policy, NAT (National Aids Trust)

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