Free HIV treatment for foreign nationals in England welcomed

Stephen Gray February 28, 2012
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A move to allow some overseas visitors in Enland to receive free treatment for HIV in the same way as other communicable infections has been welcomed.

The free treatment has been approved on the grounds of public health and of reducing long-term costs to the NHS.

Currently, failed asylum seekers who are allowed to remain in England because their country is too dangerous to return to, people who have overstayed their visas and undocumented migrants are required to pay for treatment.

The restrictions on HIV do not apply to other sexually transmitted infections or to tuberculosis and they do not apply to those foreign nationals in Scotland or Wales who can already receive free HIV treatment.

Campaigners have argued that the current English rules are harmful to public health efforts and result in higher costs to the NHS in the long term because of greater risk of onward infection and increased costs associated with treating HIV in its later stages.

Lisa Power, Policy Director for Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We strongly support this move by the Government to bring HIV in line with all the other sexually transmitted infections which are free from charge on public health grounds.

“It makes no sense to deny people medication that dramatically reduces the risk of them passing on their infection to others.

“Leaving people without treatment also means the NHS pays far more further down the line when someone’s health fails and they need emergency care. These changes will protect more people from HIV infection in the UK and will save the NHS money in the longer term.”

Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: “This measure will protect the public and brings HIV treatment in to line with all other infectious diseases. Treating people with HIV means they are very unlikely to pass the infection on to others.”

Yusef Azad, Director of Policy at the National Aids Trust, said: “If someone is tested and treated early, it is much cheaper than them presenting themselves in hospital with a much more serious, complex condition that can cost tens of thousands of pounds to treat.”

Amid fears of “health tourists” heading to the UK for free treatment, campaigners have pointed out that the existing rules in Scotland and Wales have not had a noticeable effect.

An estimated 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK including 5% of gay men according to HPA figures.

The HPA’s 2011 report on HIV noted that had the 3,640 HIV diagnoses made in 2010 in the UK been prevented, on contemporary estimates over £1 billion would have been saved in future treatment costs.

Related topics: asylum, Health, HIV, immigration

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