Britain’s leading HIV charities have welcomed calls by Labour leader Ed Miliband for doctors to increase HIV testing and for greater investment in prevention.
He said a future Labour Government would put a greater emphasis on prevention as a health strategy.
“Prevention is incredibly important,” Mr Miliband said to PinkNews.co.uk. “Preventing HIV is a far better solution because it’s not necessary for people to become infected. I think it’s crucial: making sure there is that investment in HIV prevention – and it’s a key part of the Government’s responsibility, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the efficient thing to do, and it’s the best way of spending vital money.”
Figures released in November last year by Public Health England showed HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM) at an all-time high.
HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust welcomed Mr Miliband’s remarks, saying an extra 250,000 HIV tests a year among high risk groups could potentially halve undiagnosed infection rates in England in the next five years.
Cary James, Head of Programmes at Terrence Higgins, said to PinkNews.co.uk: “We are at a tipping point in the fight against HIV. But to turn the tide of the epidemic, we need renewed commitment to HIV prevention at all levels of Government.”
Mr James warned that cutting undiagnosed HIV infection rates could only be achieved by securing “significantly more investment from public health, local authorities and the NHS.”
“GPs have a big role to play. We need to see a culture shift where everyone with an increased risk of HIV is routinely offered a test by their GP,” he added.
The National AIDS Trust praised Mr Miliband for highlighting the closure of walk-in clinics, which he said was undermining efforts to increase HIV testing.
NAT also warned Government proposals to charge certain migrants for primary care services could be an even bigger threat in the fight against undiagnosed HIV infections.
NAT Director of Policy and Campaigns, Yusef Azad, told PinkNews.co.uk: “Charging for primary care services would effectively shut many vulnerable people out of the health system completely, with disastrous effects for individual and public health.
“So far Labour have failed to condemn the proposals. We hope Ed Miliband addresses this and joins the many health charities campaigning to ensure all people in the UK have universal access to primary care.”
Mr Azad welcomed the Labour leader’s call for greater investment in HIV prevention.
“It’s great to see Ed Miliband recognising the importance and cost effectiveness of investing in HIV prevention,” Mr Azad said to PinkNews.co.uk. “One key element of prevention is investing in local HIV support services which are currently under threat. HIV support services help those with more complex needs to adhere to their medication, which not only keeps them well but reduces their risk of HIV transmission to incredibly low levels.”
Mr Azad added: “Such services can also support people in their relationships and in negotiating safer sex and healthier lifestyles. The work of these services in our community also helps tackle the social stigma which discourages many from going for an HIV test in the first place. There is currently uncertainly both on commissioning responsibilities and on future funding – this seriously threatens the effectiveness of our national HIV response.”