UK Government: More to be done to tackle HIV

Publish Date: 28/10/2011

As we move towards the 24th annual recognition of World Aids Day on December 1st, the number of people living with HIV in the UK continues to rise.

Health Protection Agency figures released earlier this year show that 3,000 gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV last year – the highest number recorded.

A report by the House of Lords HIV and Aids Select Committee, released in August  said the government is not doing enough to tackle the issue and that the priority given to prevention efforts is “woefully inadequate”.

The committee, chaired by Lord Norman Fowler noted that just £2.9m was spent on HIV prevention in the UK in the last year compared with £762m on treatment.

Avoiding one infection saves treatment costs estimated at £280,000-£360,000. The Health Protection Agency has said the NHS could have saved £1.2 bn if all 3,780 cases infected in the UK in 2010 had been prevented.

What is the Government doing?

The UK Government currently recognises the continuing risk HIV presents to public health.

The recent White Paper; Healthy Lives, Healthy People sets out the Government’s strategy for reform of public health in England and this includes HIV and sexual health. It accepts that more could and should be done, and recognises the scale of the challenge.

The Department of Health has continued to provide dedicated funding for HIV charities for national prevention programmes since 1996. The Department of Health’s new Sexual Health Policy Framework will provide an opportunity for the Government to assess where further work is needed to ensure a strong and sustained response to tackling HIV.

The Government agrees with the Committee’s focus on the importance of prevention. Prevention will be a key part of the Government’s new Sexual Health Policy Framework.

As the Committee’s Report makes clear, investment in prevention offers significant savings in the short and long-term. It is currently considering how prevention work might be taken forward in the future, in the light of decisions about funding priorities in 2012/13.

At a local level, it is for local primary care trusts and from 2013 local authorities, to decide their level of investment in HIV prevention, taking into account HIV prevalence and their wider public health needs.

The Government agrees that voluntary sector and community-based organisations have made a major contribution to tackling HIV. Their links, knowledge and understanding of the communities most affected by HIV means that prevention messages are relevant and acceptable to the communities targeted.

Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Update and way forward, explained that the fundamental plank of the Government’s reform strategy is providing public health with dedicated resources.

This allows a strategic approach to spend on prevention, recognising that public health is a long-term investment, and that effective spend on prevention will release savings which can then be used elsewhere in the NHS and cross-government more widely. In the tough financial climate of today, this is a critical commitment to the value of prevention.

The Government agrees with the Committee on the role of targeted HIV prevention programmes for those groups at increased risk of HIV. In the UK this remains men who have sex with men (MSM) and sub-Saharan African communities.

It also agrees with the Committee about the importance of early diagnosis so that people can access treatment and prevent onward transmission.

Acknowledging that increasing HIV testing should be part of local HIV prevention testing strategies especially in areas of high prevalence.

The Government supports the development of local testing strategies, recommended within National Institute of Clinical Excellence  testing guidelines.

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation says:

Rob Cookson, Director of Programmes & Performance at the Lesbian & Gay Foundation, welcomes the Governments response;  ‘It is particularly pleasing to see that Prevention will be a key part of the Government’s new Sexual Health Policy Framework.  It’s also important to recognise that the Governments response specifically supports the Committees findings that investment in prevention offers significant savings in the short and long-term.

We also welcome the fact that the Government make clear that men who have sex with men (MSM) remain disproportionately affect by HIV, and indeed other Sexually Transmitted Infections. We look forward to the future publication of the Public Health Outcomes Framework. The inclusion of late HIV diagnosis as an indicator remains important; it would help to further prioritise HIV, both on a local and national level’.

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