AIDs charity calls for national HIV response

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The UN High Level Meeting last week in New York again saw UK Ministers advocating a human rights based response to the global HIV pandemic, but in a report published by the National AIDS Trust (NAT) such important and effective international work is contrasted with serious failings back at home.

The NAT report ‘HIV in the United Kingdom: A Progress Report 2006’ presents an overview of the UK ‘s domestic record.

With new HIV diagnoses in the UK running at their highest rate ever, the report finds a loss of political focus and commitment to tackle HIV in the UK for example, HIV being ignored in the Public Health White Paper, a diversion of resources away from HIV prevention work with, for example, promised additional funding diverted to plug NHS financial deficits, and policies and practice which ignore the human rights of many of the most vulnerable to HIV infection, such as prisoners and migrants from high prevalence countries.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, said: “The Government needs to mirror its impressive international statements in its policies back at home – we need universal access to HIV treatment for all who need it in the UK; we need long-term investment in HIV prevention; we need to promote the health needs and human rights of the most vulnerable in the face of populist prejudice; we need political leaders who take time to focus on HIV in the UK and recognise the importance of talking about our own epidemic.

“This is not to question the priority of an international response to this global crisis – it’s simply to ask that we do here what we are calling others to do overseas.”

A Department of Health spokesperson told “HIV is an important part of a broader approach to improving sexual health, backed by investment of £300m.

“Under the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS adopted in 2001, the UK made a pledge to tackle HIV and AIDS by a set of agreed actions. We are undertaking all the measures that we signed up to and are proud of the progress that we have made.

“We have published the first ever national strategy for sexual health and HIV, which aims to tackle rising rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections and modernise services, and the public health white paper announced £300m over three years to improve sexual health.

“Last year, the Department of Health invested over £10m nationally in HIV prevention and sexual health promotion, including world class HIV prevention for those groups most at risk. This is in addition to the funding provided by Primary Care Trusts at local level, to undertake HIV prevention which meets the needs of their local populations.

“HIV testing is now offered to all first time attendees at sexual health clinics on screening for sexually transmitted infections, and to all pregnant women.

“Most people living with HIV receive their testing and treatment through GUM clinics, so by improving these services, we will be making a real difference to the lives of people with HIV and also improving access to services which can provide HIV testing.

“In terms of prevention, a new £50m sexual health campaign will include HIV, to raise awareness and encourage safer sex. This is in additional to our ongoing targeted HIV prevention for those most at risk of infection.”

The 2006 UN declaration on AIDs promotes the protection of human rights, gender equality and the education and empowerment of women and young people, especially girls, to reduce their vulnerability to HIV.