More must be done to tackle ongoing HIV threat

An article by Gavin Strang in the Evening News:

TODAY marks the 20th anniversary of the first ever World AIDS Day. Even though we have known how to protect ourselves from HIV for decades, the virus is still very much with us.

117 people were diagnosed HIV-positive in Lothian last year. The number of new diagnoses in Scotland hit an all-time high at 453.

The face of HIV in Scotland has changed. In the 80s, people who injected drugs were hit hardest. Nowadays it is gay men – usually infected in Scotland – or people heterosexually infected abroad. It is also perfectly possible to pick up HIV through heterosexual sex here in Scotland – 29 people were diagnosed last year as having done so.

Across the UK we need more and better HIV prevention work. It is a public health failure that so many people become infected every year. HIV awareness is too low, and high-risk behaviour continues.

We must also make sure that people who have become infected with HIV get themselves tested, and tested early.

An individual with HIV benefits from early diagnosis, as the treatments will be able to do more for them. However, a third of people testing positive are diagnosed late, and one in ten are diagnosed so late that they had already progressed to Aids.

The wider population also gains from early HIV diagnosis, because people who have been diagnosed are less likely to pass on the infection.

The aim must be to make it easy and normal for people to take an HIV test. There has been progress. Pregnant women are now routinely offered HIV tests, and the number of people taking a test more than doubled between 2003 and 2006. New guidelines recommend that the NHS should make HIV tests more widely available, to ensure that fewer people go undiagnosed.

If you might have been exposed to HIV through unprotected sex or sharing drug-taking works, then it would make sense to take a test. To find out more call the NHS Sexual Health Helpline on 0800-567 123.

Gavin Strang is architect of the Aids (Control) Act.