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More HIV screening needed

PUBLISHED: 09:23 01 December 2009 | UPDATED: 08:56 01 August 2010

CALLS have been made for a national HIV screening programme as record numbers of people living with the virus in the East of England are reported.

At the end of 2008, there were 3,949 people with diagnosed HIV in the region, this is a 7pc increase from 2007.

CALLS have been made for a national HIV screening programme as record numbers of people living with the virus in the East of England are reported.

At the end of 2008, there were 3,949 people with diagnosed HIV in the region, this is a 7pc increase from 2007. In addition, 27pc of people with HIV remain undiagnosed.

And almost a quarter of adults in the region were diagnosed late according to the Health Protection Agency which has released the figures to coincide with World Aids Day.

In 2008, there were 454 adults (15 years and above) who received a new HIV diagnosis and of those, 23pc (106) were diagnosed after the point at which treatment should have started and therefore missed out on the benefits that come from early diagnosis - most importantly improved life expectancy.

Dr Chris Williams, sexual health lead for the Health Protection Agency East of England said: “HIV is a serious infection and the fact that such a high percentage of people are getting diagnosed late highlights the need for increased testing. There have been improvements in the uptake of testing but we are still seeing substantial numbers diagnosed late.”

“We're seeing more people accessing HIV related care than ever before. The advancements in medical treatment means that HIV is no longer a death sentence. People with HIV can live longer and healthier lives on treatment, but it's important that people get diagnosed soon after becoming infected.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust is calling on the government to introduce a national targeted screening programme to halve undiagnosed HIV in the UK by 2014.

Victoria Gamble, regional manager from the Terrence Higgins Trust in the East of England said: “The level of undiagnosed HIV in the country is completely unacceptable.

“With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV can live to old age. If left undiagnosed, they will die earlier, be significantly more ill and more likely to infect others.

“HIV testing is easy, quick and saves lives. There should be more testing in more settings, and we need the political will to make this happen.”

The region has an antenatal screening program, which identifies infected mothers early and gets them on treatment, limiting the possibilities of spread to their babies. The uptake of antenatal screening for HIV in this region has continued to increase and in 2008 the uptake was 96pc.

The sooner HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are diagnosed and treated, the less likely it is they will be passed on and HIV patients can be helped to sustain as normal a life as possible.

Testing for HIV and all sexually transmitted infections is both free and confidential at Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics across the region.

Anyone who has had unprotected sex with a new or casual partner is advised to get tested.

For more information on HIV and other infections log onto www.hpa.org.uk

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