HIV Screening Demand as Cases Surge

June 22, 2004

A call for the Government to introduce HIV tests for long term migrants from countries where there is a high incidence of the disease has come from think- tank Migrationwatch after government figures have shown a sharp increase in cases over recent years.

A report 'The case for HIV screening' from the group shows that the spread of HIV in the UK is now increasingly influenced by patterns of migration and overseas travel and calls for tests - similar to those already required by 46 other countries, including Australia, Canada and the United States - to be introduced by the UK as a matter of urgency.

'This is clearly an extremely sensitive subject which must be treated with great care as each case represents a personal tragedy,' said Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, 'but the government has a clear responsibility for public health and would be failing its own citizens if it were not to do all it could to prevent the situation deteriorating further.

'No doubt there will be those who criticise us for even producing this report but, if we are to have the debate about immigration the Prime Minister has called for, it is important that we should not duck the difficult issues.

'A government committee has been prevaricating for many months while heterosexually acquired HIV has been rising rapidly with three quarters of new cases recorded as probably acquired in Africa,' said Sir Andrew.

Included in the report are some of the conclusions of the Government's own Health Protection Agency:

- Around three-quarters of the 3,152 heterosexually acquired HIV infections newly diagnosed in the UK in 2002 were probably acquired in Africa

- Of HIV-infected heterosexuals seen for care in 2002, 66% were black-African. The total of 8,262 represented a 330% increase since 1997;

- By contrast, diagnoses of HIV infection acquired heterosexually within the UK amounted to only 275 reported for 2002; an increase of 128 cases compared to 1998. The majority of these individuals were probably infected through partners who acquired their infections outside Europe

The report says that the cost of managing a patient with HIV is officially estimated to be £15,000 a year. The Department of Health estimate that the average lifetime treatment cost for an HIV-positive person is between £135,000 and £181,000.

The estimated total cost of treatment and care in 2002-3 was £345m.

The potential cost to the NHS of HIV acquired in Africa over the past five years 1998 - 2002 is now just over £1billion.

In 2002 approximately 20,000 students and 10,000 work permit holders came to the UK from Sub-Saharan Africa.

'The tests for HIV are now very reliable so the case for screening is clear cut on both public health and financial grounds. A tiny fraction of this money would help far more people if it was spent in Africa,' said Sir Andrew.

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