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Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 17:12 GMT
Safe sex message targets rise in HIV
Blood test for HIV
More people are being diagnosed than ever before
A campaign has been launched by the government to promote safe sex among young people following a rise in the number of new HIV cases in the UK.

New figures, released ahead of World Aids Day on Sunday, show a 25 per cent increase in the number of British people infected with HIV over the last year.

The figures suggest about 41,000 people in the UK now have HIV and more people have been infected this year than in any comparable period since records began.

There has been a degree of complacency and it [HIV infection] has been de-prioritised as a health issue

Terrence Higgins Trust

The new government campaign will be aimed mainly at people aged 18 to 30 and will encourage people to use condoms.

The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) recorded 2,945 new diagnoses in the year to the end of September - compared with 2,354 in the same period last year.

High rates

Infection rates are particularly high among homosexual men - about 1,500 are now thought to be contracting HIV each year.

Black people are also suffering a particularly high rate of infection.
The campaign is aimed at young adults

And there is a significant increase in the number of heterosexuals being infected abroad - especially in Africa.

HIV and Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said the government needs to re-prioritise and direct more resources into HIV.

Speaking on BBC News 24,he said: "When the death rate fell in 1997, I think people took their eye off the ball.

"I think there has been a degree of complacency and it has been de-prioritised as a health issue.

"We acknowledge that other health issues are very important, but we think it's about time the NHS re-prioritised HIV and investment in education now will save the country a lot of money in the long run."

Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have also been rising sharply.

Syphilis infection has risen by 400% since 1995.

Growing outbreak

The PHLS says that its figures prove that there remains a significant problem with new infections - despite years of "safe sex" messages.

Dr Kevin Fenton from the PHLS said: "This record high for HIV diagnoses is very concerning, especially as data indicate that ongoing transmission of HIV is occurring.

"We are not only diagnosing infections which were acquired many years ago. HIV is a current, not a historical problem."

Worldwide figures released this week show the UK's problem is tiny in comparison with the epidemic in southern Africa, and the growing outbreak in India and China.

But Dr Fenton said the message still needed to be driven home to prevent new infections taking off in the UK.

He said: "Safer sex is everybody's responsibility, not only those who have been diagnosed with HIV or with other STIs.

"The fact of the matter is that everybody needs to be aware of the risks.

"Every single HIV diagnosis is a devastating blow to the patient and their family."

The figures were released alongside a new government campaign aimed at young adults.

Its theme is the "Sex Lottery", with adverts in newspapers highlighting the dangers of, among other infections, chlamydia and herpes.

Infection on the rise
One in nine has an STI
STIs up 61% over 10 years
Gonorrhoea up 35%
Chlamydia up 122%
Syphilis up 204%
Chlamydia is the most common STI
Genital warts is second most common
Sam, a 28-year-old HIV positive homosexual man, said he wasn't surprised by the increase in the number of infections.

"People definitely do feel the risk is over - the general feeling is nobody's dying any more. That isn't true. I don't understand where the government's coming from.

"It seems as if all the campaigning about safe sex and all those messages that were so strong in the 1980s all seem to have disappeared."

But some now feel the government is ignoring one major part of the rise in HIV, the number of cases "imported" in the form of students, workers and asylum seekers, many of them from Africa.

Anthony Browne, who writes for the Times newspaper, said: "The real public health problem in terms of HIV is not gay sex, it is not heterosexual sex, it's not intravenous drug use.

"Immigration has overtaken gay sex as the main form of HIV into Britain - the government isn't tackling that, isn't doing anything about it."

The BBC's Gill Higgins reports
"The ads are changing direction"
Andrew Ridley, Terrence Higgins Trust
"The campaign the government has launched this weekend is the first in 15 years"
Hazel Blears, public health minister
"Our policy is to have voluntary testing as we don't want to drive people underground"

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30 Nov 02 | Health
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