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Thu, 21 January 2021

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By Baroness Young
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The HIV Commission Says People Should Be Tested For HIV Whenever They Have A Blood Test

The HIV Commission Says People Should Be Tested For HIV Whenever They Have A Blood Test
3 min read

Testing for HIV should be carried out whenever someone has their blood taken, according to the UK’s first ever HIV Commission.

Health secretary Matt Hancock promised to end new cases of the virus by 2030 in the UK and the commission believes the automatic testing of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality when they are screened for other health conditions could ensure the target is met on time.

Ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, former public health minister and Conservative MP, Steve Brine and Labour shadow minister Wes Streeting MP, who both sit on the independent commission, have said an “opt out” system for testing HIV needs to be introduced by government as soon as possible.

Brine said the plan is practical, achievable and the public are in a place where they understand that testing asymptomatic people is essential to eradicate a virus because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said a significant step-change on fighting the illness in the UK is now “tantalisingly close” if the government adopts their recommendations.

“In maternity care we’re at 100 percent of women being tested and that’s why transmissions to baby have almost disappeared.

“That tells me that it’s possible. The ambition is to make every contact count, so it’s an opt-out of the test, not an opt-in,” he said.

Streeting said: “Think about how often people’s bloods are taken, how often people register with a new GP and you get that set of questions we are all used to about underlying health conditions, you get weighed…why not just take people’s test at that point? Making this routine and regular is really important to combat the stigma.

“Frankly, there are a lot more intrusive tests that people have to go through every single year than doing a simple HIV test.

“All of the evidence now shows your health outcomes and your life expectancy is so much better if you get an early diagnosis and if you know your own status you can take action.”

The commission, supported by the Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation, was asked by government earlier this year to find ways to meet their 2030 zero transmission of HIV target.

During the course of their research they found opportunities to accurately test for HIV are even being missed at sexual health clinics. Over a quarter of a million people go to a sexual health clinic without being offered a test and 300,000 refuse the offer of a test.

They suggest testing could also become standard practice when registering for a GP, at routine smear exams, in pharmacies and in accident and emergency departments.

It’s estimated that currently around 5,900 people in England are living with undiagnosed HIV, which drastically increases the chance of unwittingly passing this virus.

Brine said the stigma of having HIV is still very real and their report found that in some health care settings staff are using two gloves to treat people with HIV positive status or giving people appointments at the end of the day so they can clean down the room they have used.

Streeting agreed there is still a basic stigma around coming into contact with people with HIV.

“It’s long past time for us to have dealt with this, but it means better training for people and not tolerating a situation where someone is made to feel bad, unclean or unwelcome because they are either living with HIV or are going in for an HIV test," he said.

The commission is also calling for the government to further commit to an 80 percent reduction in new diagnoses by 2025, which would see cases drop from 2,861 in 2019 to fewer than 600 in five years’ time. 

Brine will host an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the issue on Tuesday evening to coincide with World AIDS Day. 

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