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Saturday, August 1, 1998 Published at 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK


Fears over new HIV strain

Prisoners with Aids must be allowed access to treatment

The Terence Higgins Trust is warning that a new drug-resistant strain of HIV - the virus that causes Aids - may develop in the UK if infected prisoners do not get the right medication at the right time.

The importance of access: Andrew Ridley interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live
The trust is concerned that no national guidelines exist for the treatment of HIV-positive and Aids patients in jail, and that strict prison regimes often prevent effective treatment.

The warning follows a survey by the National Aids and Prisons Forum which found that some infected prisoners were receiving no treatment at all, while others were being given their medication at haphazard intervals.

Virus 'can learn to resist drugs'

[ image: The Terence Higgins Trust is an HIV and Aids charity]
The Terence Higgins Trust is an HIV and Aids charity
Andrew Ridley, director of operations of the Terence Higgins Trust, said it was extremely important that patients receiving combination therapy should continue to have access to it when in prison.

Otherwise, he warned, the type of HIV a patient was suffering from can "learn to become drug-resistant to the drugs that you've been taking".

"The worry from a public health perspective is that when they are released back into the community, they may take back with them a drug-resistant strain of HIV which they will then pass on to other members of the community," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Complicated combinations

Combination therapy can be very complicated. Patients often need to take a number of different drugs at different times of the day.

Mr Ridley said that though this could be difficult for prisons to organise, such treatment must still be available to those in jail who need it.

He added that poor access to treatment within the criminal justice systems of other countries, like the United States, had led to "an escalation of transmission and an increase in HIV in the population".

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