The number of people living with HIV in the UK could reach a record 100,000 cases by next year, according to a new report.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) predicts that unless more focus is given to HIV prevention and routine testing, more people could become infected.
It is 30 years since the first case of HIV was formally diagnosed, and since then there have been several major breakthroughs in medical treatment resulting in longer life expectancy for those infected by the virus.
But some medical experts now believe because of the success of anti viral drugs in prolonging the lives of carriers, it has led to complacency.
HPA figures show that in the last three decades 115,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK alone, with 27,000 people having gone on to develop full-blown Aids – and 20,000 of those having since died.
We need a complete and wholesome approach to treating HIV and most importantly help prevent its spread – Dr Rupert Whitaker, a long-standing HIV survivor
But what is worrying the medical profession and campaign pressure groups is that, despite all the medical advances over the last three decades, the number of HIV cases in the UK is expected to rise next year to 100,000 and some of those cases will be people who do not yet realise they have been infected by the virus.
Dr Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, believes widespread testing is urgently needed to help get new cases diagnosed.
“It is so crucial when treating someone who is HIV positive as quickly as possible. That way their lives can be prolonged considerably,” she said.
“Provided someone is tested within the early stages of infection, so they have only had HIV for a short time, and they receive effective medication followed up by effective therapy, then their life expectancy is very good.
“In fact we can safely say HIV is no longer a life threatening illness but a chronic life long condition which if treated correctly can mean people can live to their normal life expectancy.”
One person who is living proof that early diagnosis and treatment can work is HIV carrier Janet.
She is 29, from London, and was diagnosed when she was 19. Janet, who does not want her full name to be disclosed but is happy to campaign for change, now has a two-year-old son called Zion. She is also expecting another baby in three months.
She said being diagnosed quickly and taking the right drug treatment has meant she has safely given birth to her son, who is not infected, although she won’t know if her unborn child is negative until it’s three months old.
“The medication has saved my life. The side effects are very heavy – back pain, headaches and I often feel like I’m living in the body of a 90 year old but I’m only 29,” she said.
“But I have to take the medication for the rest of my life, I know that, in order to live, which is fine.”
Dr Rupert Whitaker is another long-standing HIV survivor. He contracted the virus in 1981. His partner, Terrence Higgins, who was one of the UK’s first public figures to actively raise awareness about the virus, also became HIV positive and later died of Aids complications.
Dr Whitaker, who co-founded the Terrence Higgins Trust in memory of his former partner, believes that because anti-viral pills are so successful people have become complacent.
“These pills are extremely expensive and with time we just can’t afford to keep just giving them out. We need a complete and wholesome approach to treating HIV and most importantly help prevent its spread.
“In the 1990s when everyone was really scared about HIV and AIDS, and people were dying all around me, the various agencies were all working together to fight it… But I definitely feel that over time things have been allowed to slip.
“People have definitely become complacent over the years because of the medical advances. But you can’t just treat HIV by popping a pill,” he said.
“We have to become more preventative to stop people contracting the virus in the first place.”
LASS offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test and you’ll get the results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test. We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories. The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days post contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.
Appointments are not always necessary, if you would like a test, please contact us on 0116 2559995