As we commemorate World AIDS Day tomorrow across the world, the National AIDS Trust has highlighted the high rates of HIV infection among the London gay community.
At a fundraising event on Wednesday, hosted by Gaydar parent company QSoft Consulting, the trust’s chief executive urged the gay community to do more to tackle the problem.
Earlier this month the Health Protection Agency revealed that the number of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV in the UK is at its highest rate since the start of the epidemic.
2,700 gay and bisexual men were newly diagnosed last year, the highest number ever.
Across the UK 1 in 20 gay and bisexual men are now living with HIV and estimates suggest this figure is as high as 1 in 10 in London.
Furthermore, nearly half (47 per cent) of HIV infected gay men who visit a sexual health clinic leave without being tested for HIV.
From 10am tomorrow GaydarRadio will feature a special World AIDS Day line up of music celebrities and DJs broadcasting live from and the Profile bar in London, during a 12 hour red ribbon radiothon.
The line up includes rugby international star Ben Cohen and celebrated singer/songwriters Sam Brown and Alison Moyet.
The increase in HIV diagnosis comes at a time when funding for HIV prevention is inadequate.
In the past 10 years the number of people being seen for HIV care has more than trebled, whilst a recent National AIDS Trust survey into Primary Care Trusts revealed that in the same period the amount spent on HIV prevention has decreased.
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, said:
“For over ten years the Government and health services have been failing to bring HIV in the UK under control and diagnoses among gay and bisexual men continue to rise.
“Funding for prevention and testing must urgently be increased and the Government must make informed policy commitments to control the epidemic.
“But the gay community must also act – gay men, gay businesses, the gay media all must respond to what is in essence a public health crisis for gay men.
“If amongst the general public there was over one in 20 with such a serious infectious disease, it would dominate politics and priorities. If we want wider society to act on HIV, the gay community must take the lead.”
Overall diagnoses in the UK remain high.
7,800 people were diagnosed last year, and the numbers living with HIV in the UK were 73,000 by the end of 2006.
One in three people do not know they are infected.
If rates continue the National AIDS Trust says that by 2010 there will be 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK.
The report also reveals worrying findings among young people with 1 in 10 (11 per cent) new diagnoses last year among 16 to 24 years old.
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said:
“We need more investment in HIV prevention, more HIV testing in local communities and stronger national leadership. This is a real test for national government and local health services – and one we can’t afford to fail.”
Campaigner Peter Tatchell has highlighted recommendations to slash NHS funding for HIV prevention work among gay men in the capital by 36% in 2008 – a cut of more than £650,000.
“Cutting finance for prevention work among the highest HIV risk group is just plain stupid. Prevention makes more sense, and is more cost effective, than treatment,” he wrote on The Guardian’s website.
“The proposed cuts were announced without proper consultation with gay and HIV organisations, and against the advice of expert HIV agencies and professionals, such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Gay Men Fighting AIDS.
“Gay and bisexual men remain the highest risk group for HIV in the UK, accounting for 80% of all domestically-acquired HIV infections.
“The rate of HIV infection in the gay community has risen by 20 per cent in the past five years. The need for education and prevention work is still very great.”
Mr Tatchell added that condom use and safer sex messages are not reaching many men who have sex with men, especially teenagers and members of minority race and faith communities.
Almost half of HIV infected men who have sex with men left sexual health clinics last year unaware of their HIV infection.
“There is an obvious and urgent need for more and better HIV prevention campaigns for gay people, rather than penny-pinching cutbacks,” he said.
To view a list of UK events for World AIDS Day click here.