HIV – an infection we often associate with the third world, due to lack of education, funds and treatment. However, latest government figures have revealed that around 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK, and of that figure, around 42% are living in London.
The boroughs of Islington and Hackney were identified as having two of the highest rates of HIV infection in England, according to the figures released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
The figures showed that 8.5 people in every 1000, between the ages of 15-59, have been diagnosed with HIV in Islington; while in Hackney the figure was 7.42. Overall, there were 2,557 people within that age group who have been diagnosed with the infection throughout the two boroughs.
The research by HPA also predicted that a further 423 people in Islington were infected with HIV but were unaware.
Michael Cross*, from Hackney, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2001, said: I lived a very lonely and solitary life [whilst coming to terms with his diagnosis]. Also, the options for HIV positive people have changed and when I did finally come to terms with my diagnosis, I found that much of what I had feared had changed through new medications and community awareness to battle discrimination”.
Many sufferers of HIV complain about a lack of understanding in society as well as limited support from the health services. Islington Council do offer some help to those affected in the form of: basic information and advice, referrals to voluntary agencies and NHS services and practical support to help people live independently within the community.
There are many groups and charities such as the experience project and the National Aids Trust (NAT), who aim to change people’s attitude towards HIV and create wider awareness of how it can be prevented.
It is due to these groups and a growing awareness of HIV that more people are coming forward to get themselves checked and find out more about how to stop the infection spreading.
Mr Cross added: “Today, I feel I have a life ahead that I never dared to consider before now.”
Deborah Jack, chief executive of NAT says: “Treatment is effective and people diagnosed with HIV can access it easily. However, when it comes to increasing the uptake of testing – the gateway to treatment – our services are inconsistent and ultimately we are still failing to make any significant headway in tackling the high rates of undiagnosed HIV.
“It is clear that action must be taken. When the NHS changes take place in April 2013, we must ensure local councils use this opportunity to step up to the challenge and bring about change.”
Living Well is an independent not-for-profit social enterprise, dedicated to giving help and support to people who have been diagnosed with HIV. A spokesperson for the charity said: “After seeing a health advisor at the clinic where you were diagnosed, we would be here to contact about our services.
“We provide one-to-one counselling, offer a peer-support programme – giving people the opportunity to talk to other people in the community living with HIV, and a life support programme which spans over 6 weeks. “ More information can be found on their website: www.livingwelluk.com.