‘Halting the Spread of HIV’: Three Organisations Discuss Their Differing Approaches
June 13, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
One in four people living with HIV in the UK are unaware of their infection, according to Health Protection Agency.
Over 30 years since HIV was recognised in the early 1980s, the transmission of the infection is still a growing concern. With almost a quarter of those affected unaware of their infection, The Fresh Outlook spoke to three HIV, Aids and health organisations to discuss the different schemes they support to combat HIV in the UK.
HIV in the UK:
Every year the Health Protection Agency (HPA) publishes UK statistics about the previous year. The most recent figures available are from 2010, reported by the National Aids Trust (NAT).
- An estimated 91,500 people were living with HIV in the UK.
- Out of which approximately 22,000 people (24% ) were unaware of their infection
- There are three times as many people receiving HIV specialist care in the UK than 10 years ago.
- The highest proportion of new diagnosis in 2010 came from heterosexual people, which has doubled since 2004.
- Less than 44% of those with HIV were homosexual men, however this group, along with people of Black African ethnicity are still those at the highest risk.
- According to HIVaware.org, half of adults diagnosed with HIV were at a late stage of infection (after the point at which treatment should have begun).
The National Aids Trust (NAT) is a UK charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. They suggest that the HPA’s figures highlight a continuing need to increase awareness of HIV and how it can be transmitted, as well as why HIV Partner Notification schemes are vital in preventing the spread of the infection.
Partner Notification describes the process of contacting the sexual partners (past and present) of an individual with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as HIV, advising them that they have been exposed to infection and encouraging them to get tested. Research gathered by the NAT has shown that where HIV partner notification is conducted thoroughly, up to 37% of partners traced and tested were newly diagnosed HIV positive as a result. In turn, this encourages more partners to be contacted, and prevents the infection being passed on.
Research has also shown that the sooner an individual is diagnosed with HIV, the earlier they can enter into care and benefit from treatment, making it more likely that they can live a long and healthy life. The NAT count partner notification as a crucial tactic to both reduce cases of HIV and to benefit the health system:
“Being notified has an important role to play not just in individual treatment – but in prevention too, and in halting the spread of HIV… HIV partner notification can break up the complex sexual networks through which HIV is often transmitted, and in the long run save the NHS huge sums of money in treatment costs.”
In their report from May 2012 – ‘HIV Partner Notification: a missed opportunity?’ – the NAT described HIV Partner Notification schemes as “forgotten” and “neglected”, calling for a resurgence in their importance. They cite a lack of awareness about the effectiveness of such schemes, as well as social stigma attached to HIV, which patients can find emotionally distressing and therefore acts as a barrier to inform others of their diagnosis. In contrast to well-established notification schemes for other STIs such as Chlamydia, which have clear guidelines for good practice, as well as national standards and regular auditing, the NAT highlight that this is not the case for HIV. Asserting that: “more often partners will be grateful for being informed rather than angry”, the NAT calls for clinics to be better resourced to drive partner notification schemes and their positive consequences.
ACET International (Aids Care Education and Training) is a Christian organisation based in the UK. Their aim is to reduce HIV infections by providing care and education for young people, encouraging them to make informed and healthy choices about sex and relationships, therefore reducing the number of young people contracting HIV through unprotected sex. Chief executive of ACET, Peter Fabian told The Fresh Outlook: “Every year a new generation comes to sexual maturity, so we want to equip them as they make that step and transition into a whole new world.
“The ACET view is called ‘comprehensive’, we talk about all of the options available to young people, which includes abstinence and delay, but also safe and effective use of contraception.”
Mr Fabian outlined the organisation’s three areas of concentration in combating the spread of HIV: “Firstly, there needs to be continued awareness raising that HIV is an issue, it’s fantastic that there is treatment, but while treatment can be used as prevention, which can engender a degree of false security that is dangerous, because ultimately HIV is not a curable infection and can in some cases lead to complications.
“Secondly, primary prevention in schools, as if you are preventing HIV you are also preventing a whole raft of other sexually transmitted infections, so there has to a comprehensive programme in place [for young people].
“Thirdly, working with groups that are most at risk of contracting HIV, such as the gay community, immigrant communities and intravenous drug users, and targeting efforts at those communities where levels of HIV cases tend to be the highest.”
Core-Issues Trust is a British Christian organisation who offer support to homosexuals who voluntarily seek to change their sexual preference. Core-Issues associate both the risk inherent in using contraception to protect against STIs, as well as the time taken for HIV to develop within the body, with the unintentional transmission of the infection, and so while the charity acknowledges that HIV is also transmitted by non-sexual means, they believe that in adopting a lifestyle which permits sex only in married relationships, the transmission of HIV would be greatly reduced. Council of Reference member, Dermot O’Callaghan told The Fresh Outlook: “Core-Issues Trust believes that sexual intercourse should take place only between husband and wife. If this were the universal practice, there would be no STI epidemics.”
Where the approach or beliefs of the three organisations differ, what is unified is their commitment to tackling the issue. Through awareness, understanding, education and communication, these organisations along with hundreds of others, work towards the universal goal of halting the spread of HIV.
For more information, visit:
The National AIDS Trust: www.nat.org.uk
ACET International: www.acet-international.org
Core-Issues Trust: www.core-issues.org
By Jo Powell
[Image courtesy of Trygve.u]