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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 10:56 GMT
HIV numbers to rise sharply
HIV cells
Aids can be treated, but not cured
The number of people living with diagnosed HIV in the UK is set to rise by 47% between 2000 and 2005, latest figures suggest.

The Public Health Laboratory Service has so far recorded 3,342 new cases of HIV in 2001 - up 17% on the previous year.

If the trend continues the number of people living with HIV will rise from around 23,000 in 2000 to almost 34,000 by the year 2005.

New infections are occurring for a disease which we know how to prevent but for which we have no cure

Dr Barry Evans
Dr Barry Evans, Head of the HIV and STI Division at the PHLS Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, said, "These new figures are not all doom and gloom.

"To some extent, of course, they are encouraging, because some of the diagnoses are in people who were infected years ago but are now coming forward, getting diagnosed, and then receiving treatment.

"But there is also a very worrying trend here - there is no doubt that new infections are occurring for a disease which we know how to prevent but for which we have no cure.

"The government's National Strategy for Sexual Health and HIV, which was announced last year, clearly has a substantial and important job to do."

Major problem

The PHLS estimates that the final figure for new HIV cases in 2001 will top 4,000.

Dr Evans said: "The main message from these figures is that HIV is not going away.

It's a common misconception that HIV is no longer a problem in the UK

Nick Partridge
"The mainstay of tackling HIV is prevention - using condoms is a major factor in preventing the transmission of HIV and other STIs, and it is vital that within the new strategy we reinvigorate the 'safer sex' message."

For the third year in a row there were more diagnoses of HIV among heterosexuals than gay men.

Around three-quarters of cases of heterosexual infection are associated with acquisition abroad.

Dr Evans said: "Sometimes this is in people from the UK who have gone to live or work abroad; but in many cases it is in people who have come to live in the UK from countries of higher prevalence."

Policy re-think urged

The HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust is urging the government to reverse its decision to remove the protection of funding for HIV prevention work.

Derek Bodell
Derek Bodell said a widspread public health campaign was needed
Chief executive Nick Partridge said: "It's a common misconception that HIV is no longer a problem in the UK, and once again, the figures demonstrate that this is patently untrue.

"Yet funding for vital work in helping to prevent HIV transmission is now threatened under plans to move money for HIV prevention into mainstream healthcare budgets.

"This is particularly worrying given that last summer the government announced ambitious targets for reducing the numbers of new HIV infections."

Derek Bodell, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, said: "These figures tell us that we need a fresh approach to HIV prevention - a reinvigorated national HIV and AIDS education programme that is not only active in schools, colleges and universities but also in our prisons, workplaces and at the local community level."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The projected increase in diagnosed cases of HIV over the next few years reflects the impact of effective treatment with highly active anti-retroviral therapy delaying progression to Aids, decreasing mortality and improving quality of life for people living with HIV.

"As there is still no cure or vaccine for HIV/Aids, we will continue to strengthen our HIV prevention activities on a national and local level.

"Promoting testing, for example for all pregnant women, has certainly contributed to the increase in new diagnoses reported today."

Dr Liam Fox, Shadow Health Secretary, said the Tories had warned for a long time that the government was not doing enough to combat HIV.

He said: "We have repeatedly called upon the government for a coherent strategy to address this huge threat to public health, and so far the government has done nothing ."

The National Strategy on Sexual Health and HIV sets a goal of reducing new HIV cases by 25%.

The BBC's Emma Simpson
"The number of people with HIV is set to increase dramatically"
Lisa Power, Terrence Higgins Trust
"We can't afford to be complacent"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | Health
Development in Aids vaccine hunt
03 Apr 01 | Health
Polio eradication draws closer
19 Dec 01 | Africa
SA to fight Aids drug ruling
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