Updated: Friday, 5th June 2020 @ 4:07pm

Ignorance is still a major problem, says North West’s largest HIV health charity

Ignorance is still a major problem, says North West’s largest HIV health charity

By Kevin McHugh

HIV is still the cause of shocking levels of ignorance and discrimination in British society, says the George House Trust.

The Manchester based charity’s words come after last week’s announcement from the Department of Health that there would be a consultation on relaxing restrictions on HIV positive healthcare workers.   

If restrictions are lifted, healthcare workers diagnosed with the virus may be able to carry out the most invasive types of procedures such as open cardiac surgery.

But while the George House Trust welcomes the consultation they say there is an on-going battle over the ignorance that surrounds HIV.

Director of Services, Lynda Shentall, said: “I think there’s more that could be done about having an open dialog, and people who are sexually active should be thinking, ‘I should get a test because I need to know my HIV status.’

“I could tell you countless stories about people who have nearly died, who are not in those high risk groups, because they haven’t thought, and medics haven’t thought, that there might be a chance they had HIV.”

It is estimated that a third of HIV positive people in the UK are unaware that they have the virus, something Ms Shentall attributes to a lack of openness in our society.

“It’s associated with sex - sex is the main route of transmission, and we don’t really talk properly and openly about it.”

She added: “If you don’t know you are positive, you are much more likely to transmit HIV.”

The UK is the only country in Western Europe where HIV is on the rise, and cases in the North West have seen a staggering increase.

In the area last year 6,332 HIV-positive people had treatment and care – 382 more than in 2009 and nearly three-and-a-half times the 2001 total of 1,841 according to a recent report by the Health Protection Agency.

The figures show the North West has the greatest number of people accessing HIV treatment in the UK, outside of London.

Maurice Naggington, 26, a registered nurse living in Manchester says the lifting of restrictions on healthcare workers is the obvious choice but will do little to battle public ignorance on the issue.

“As a nurse, it has never crossed my mind for HIV to be a reason for anyone to be barred from working with anyone else!” said Mr Naggington.

“I think it desirable for HIV to be so unstigmatised that it can be discussed openly, but I think we are a long way off that and any such changes by the DOH will only have a minimal impact on HIV stigma.”

The risk of HIV infection to any patient having the most invasive type of exposure prone procedure has been estimated as about one in five million –comparable odds to that of being struck and killed by lightening.

There are currently around 110 healthcare workers in England who may be affected by the current restrictions.

Of the consultation, Chief Medical Officer Professor for the Department of Health, Dame Sally Davies, said: “Our knowledge and understanding and the treatment of HIV have all developed enormously over the last 25 years.

“It is right that we now consider our current guidelines to reflect what the science is telling us about the risk of HIV transmission from healthcare workers with HIV to patients.”

In September, ministers reversed a ban on gay and bisexual men being able to donate blood on the stipulation they had not had homosexual intercourse over the previous 12 months.

If you have questions or concerns regarding HIV, visit the George House Trust Website at http://www.ght.org.uk/