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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November 2004, 01:26 GMT
300m to halt sex disease crisis
HIV under the microscope
HIV and other infections are on the rise
A 300m campaign to tackle the growing sexual health crisis in the UK is being launched.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are continuing to grow, with over 700,000 new cases last year in the UK.

Clinics will receive 130m for modernisation while 50m will go on an advertising campaign for under 25s - the largest of its kind for 20 years.

The announcement was made as new data showed that 27% of people with HIV in the UK were unaware they had the virus.

Ad campaign

The advertising campaign will be the most high-profile of its kind since the HIV and Aids awareness campaign in the 1980s, which featured TV commercials showing tombstones engraved with the words "Don't die of ignorance".

Despite greater awareness of the major STIs, chlamydia rose by 9% last year to 89,818, genital warts went up by 2% to 70,883 and syphilis increased by 28% with 1,575 cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Most of the cases are occurring in people aged 16-24.

Genital warts
Genital herpes

Health Secretary John Reid said: "Prevention messages are not getting through.

"We need to act now on sexual health - and make it a priority.

"We will run an advertising campaign which tells people, especially young people, of the consequences of irresponsible sexual behaviour and of sexually transmitted diseases."

TV advertisements are expected to be shown in the Spring, emphasising the risks of STIs and the importance of practising safe sex.

He said chlamydia was a particular worry, as it has no symptoms in many cases, but can lead to infertility in later life if it is not diagnosed and treated.

Waiting times

The Public Health White Paper, published last week, said a chlamydia screening programme would be rolled out across England by March 2007, with 80m funding.

Campaigners have said long waits for appointments at genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics are partly to blame for the high rates of STIs.

Mr Reid said 130m of the funding to be used over the next three years would go into modernising GUM clinics.

It's vital that it seeks to inform people, rather than use scare tactics, so they feel confident enough to come forward for advice and treatment.
Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association

The target is to ensure people are seen within 48 hours or less by 2008.

And 40m would be used to upgrade prevention services such as contraceptive services.

Lisa Powers, of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the new funding would help with this, but only if it reached the GUM clinics.

"The government promised money for clinics last year and primary care trusts helped themselves to quite large chunks of the money."

Educate not scare

Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: "It's tremendous that the government has finally decided to support a national advertising campaign around STIs to shatter the stigma and complacency that surrounds this serious public health issue."

But she said: "It's vital that it seeks to inform people, rather than use scare tactics, so they feel confident enough to come forward for advice and treatment."

Dr William Ford-Young, Royal College of GPs sexual health spokesperson, said: "We hope that the extra funding will be used to provide much needed training and resources for sexual health screening and treatment.

"However, we are concerned that the government is launching their public awareness campaign before resources are in place."

Jan Barlow, chief executive of Brook, said: "To ensure it is effective, the campaign should also be backed up with access to free and confidential sexual health services for every young person and a commitment to make sex and relationships education a statutory part of the national curriculum."

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "These alarming figures are indicative of a Labour government that has failed to make sexual health a priority and deliver effective services."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow added sexual health was one of the "most neglected" areas of the NHS.

"Ministers have dithered and delayed for too long on sexual health. Sex infections are rocketing, and finally the government is waking up to this problem."

On Wednesday new figures were released by the Health Protection Agency showing that the number of people with HIV in the UK is still rising with 53,000 adults now living with the virus.

More than a quarter - 27% - do not know they have the infection, which could be as many as 14,300 people.

Sexually Transmitted Infections
16 Nov 04 |  Medical notes

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