HIV cases soar in East Anglia

THE number of people being treated for the HIV virus in the East of England has soared by 90% in just two years, it has been revealed.Latest figures show there are more than 1,500 HIV sufferers seeking help from health authorities in the region.

THE number of people being treated for the HIV virus in the East of England has soared by 90% in just two years, it has been revealed.

Latest figures show there are more than 1,500 HIV sufferers seeking help from health authorities in the region.

Health workers in the field remain wary about pinpointing exact areas where the virus is spreading, but a regional expert last night warned of a worrying new trend.

Dr David Irwin, a consultant in communicable disease control, said: "As far as I am aware there has been a substantial number of people coming from outside this country bringing the virus into the area.


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"Most of that category are people with work permits coming to the country with jobs lined up, but there may be a number who are coming through the asylum seeker route.

"There is no doubt that the growth area in new cases of HIV is from people who have been infected through heterosexual sex abroad – and these include men and women who might be seeking refuge from countries where care conditions are atrocious.

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"There are also those who go on holiday as sex tourists to exotic places like Thailand – a significant number will always come back infected."

Latest figures available from the Health Protection Agency show at the end of 2002, 1,549 HIV sufferers were seeking help from health authorities in Suffolk, Essex and four other counties in the region, 36% up on 2001 and 90% more than the 814 cases in 2000.

Experts now believe the biggest cause of growth of new infections is via heterosexual sex – and many of these new cases come from sub-Saharan Africa, which is currently mired in an Aids pandemic.

With 40 million people worldwide infected with HIV and with three million deaths from the disease this year alone, the Home Office said it was currently conducting a comprehensive review of procedures.

The stigma still attached to the deadly virus is such that breaking down the regional figures to a more local level is not possible because in some areas the numbers would be small enough to possibly identify sufferers.

Mr Irwin, based at the Essex Health Protection Unit – part of the Health Protection Agency – said some people might not even know they are infected when they set foot in the UK and said the decision as to whether to introducing some kind of screening was a political one.

A spokesman for the Home Office's Immigration Service said the Government recognised that there was a worry about the upward trend in HIV infections, but with 90 million visitors to the country each year, the question of screening people before they entered was problematic.

He said: "The Government is currently conducting a comprehensive review of procedures and the links to HIV infections.

"But there are practical and ethical issues about screening everyone.

"There is no evidence to suggest that someone coming here with a work permit or to claim asylum is any more likely to be infected with HIV/Aids than just general tourists."

He said people were granted work permits based on their qualifications to do the job rather than on their state of health.

He added: "Medical checks are done at induction centres for asylum seekers and as far as I'm aware, these have in some cases shown up people with HIV.

"If they are then housed, then, of course, they will be given full treatment."

In Suffolk, funding for HIV prevention, treatment and care is now split by all primary care trusts in the area, with the operation run out of Ipswich.

HIV and sexual health social care funding has remained the responsibility of the county council and they continue to commission these services.

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