When Nigel Farage recently talked on TV about the costs HIV has in the NHS, he used that old anti-immigrant rhetoric to say millions of pounds were being spent on treating non-Brits.
Last year he also said that Britain should not let in migrants if they had HIV.
Farage’s comments have caused outrage, but it has also brought the term HIV to the headlines and opened up an space for debating what the disease is really like in the UK in 2015.
Here is what you need to know:
1) HIV is everyone’s problem:
An estimated 107,800 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2013, according to Public Health England’s latest data about the disease. A quarter of people estimated to be living with HIV were unaware of their infection in 2013 and remain at risk of passing on their infection if having sex without condoms.
In 2013 alone, 6,000 new cases were identified in the UK. Of those cases, 38.2 per cent affected people born in the UK.
Considering HIV is a communicable disease, focusing on geographic discrimination, not on treating all people infected will cause the epidemic to soar, not to refrain.
2) The proportion of HIV infections acquired in the UK is actually rising
If considering not the place of birth from people newly infected, but actually where they have contracted the virus, the official data shows that the proportion of infections acquired in the UK has risen over the past decade.
In 2004, 48 per cent of the total number of new diagnosis (7.700) had been acquired in the UK. In 2013, this number has risen to 66 per cent of the total (6.000).
You can explore the data yourself. Click here to check the interactive version of the graphic bellow:
3) HIV has no face – and misconceptions only cause the virus to spread
The greatest enemy for fighting HIV is certainly stigma and misinformation. Believing that HIV only affects an specific sexual group or people with a certain sexual behaviour is an utter misconception.
These are the groups diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2013 considering the probable form of contact with the virus:
4) Prevention and education should be the focus
Despite the fact that HIV is entirely preventable, education programs in the UK receive a tiny amount of the budget for fighting HIV.
A report by the House of Lords in 2011 revealed that only £2.9m was spent on national prevention programmes in 2011/12. The amount is less than half a percent of the £762m spent on treatment and care in England in that year. The report said:
“Spending on prevention is seriously inadequate. HIV is entirely preventable but the latest figures show that the Government spent only £2.9 million on national prevention programmes, compared with £762 million on treatment. In a number of cases general sexual health campaigns have made no mention of HIV.”
“Widespread public ignorance must be tackled. […] A better understanding of HIV would also help tackle persisting stigma and discrimination – which prevents people coming forward for testing. The teaching of issues related to HIV and AIDS in schools is inadequate, with one survey showing that a quarter of young people had not learnt about HIV and AIDS in the classroom. New measures need to be pursued urgently.”
5) Public ignorance is causing new infections among young men to soar
The number of new infections amongst young gay men in the UK, aged 15-24, is the highest since 1998, according to official data. Considering the last decade alone, the number of infections affecting this group almost doubled. There has also been a rise in diagnosis among those aged 25-34.
Campaign groups attribute the numbers to a lack of adequate sexual education and information at schools. A recent study by National Aids Trust with young gay men aged 14-19 has showed that over a quarter (27%) did not know how HIV was passed on.
6) Only two things can help stop HIV: information and condom
HIV has no vaccine, it has no cure, but it is preventable. Research has showed that safe sex is crucial for preventing the disease.
Information is also key. According to HIV Prevention England, “HIV stigma still plays a large part in reluctance both to test and to disclose a positive diagnosis, leading to poor personal and public health.”
With a quarter of the people living with HIV in the UK unaware of their condition, improving testing is highly important as it prevents ongoing transmission of the virus.
In a report from November 2014, Dr Valerie Delpech, head of PHE ‘s national HIV surveillance, said:
“People diagnosed promptly with HIV infection can expect to live long and healthy lives. However, in 2013 people diagnosed with HIV late were 10 times more likely to die in the first year of diagnosis compared to those diagnosed promptly. People who remain unaware of their infection are also at risk of transmitting HIV to others.”
Less stigma and more information is what UK needs to fight HIV.