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Manchester charity blames ‘complacency’ for HIV levels failing to fall despite improved treatment

By Glen Keogh

‘Apathy’ and ‘complacency’ could be to blame for the threat of HIV in the North West staying high despite improved treatment.

Rosie Robinson, Chief Executive of the George House Trust which supports people diagnosed or living with HIV in Manchester, said she was ‘saddened’ by a report which shows the infection rate has remained static for the last 9 years.

New infections stayed at around 2,300 a year between 2001 and 2010 in England and Wales, despite rises in early diagnosis and far more people taking medication.

She said: “The North West has the biggest population of people living with HIV outside London so anyone sexually active in the North West should practice safe sex and it’s vitally important that men having sex with men understand this.

“It really troubles us that people are living with this apathy as the North West has the worst rate of diagnosis.

“By the time people are diagnosed they’re already sick and it can mean serious medical problems.”

Recent research, published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, said there had been a return of risky sexual practice.

The Health Protection Agency’s latest report adds that HIV had reached an ‘all-time high’ between men having sex with other men, with more and more cases reported each year.

Ms Robinson added: “On average, one newly diagnosed person walks through our doors every day which indicates the rate of diagnosis in the North West.

“There needs to be a massive cultural shift so it’s the norm to know your HIV status and not knowing your status should be seen as socially irresponsible.”

Manchester’s Canal Street is recognised as the UK’s biggest LGBT centre outside of London, so the figures from the report could come as a shock to the city’s gay community.

The Lesbian  & Gay Foundation provides access to sexual health screening and HIV testing to gay and bisexual men in partnership with Manchester Centre for Sexual Health.

Rob Cookson, The LGF’s Director, said: “It is important to acknowledge the fact that more gay and bisexual men are getting tested for HIV than ever before.

“It’s really important that gay and bisexual men are encouraged and have the necessary support  to access testing services and know their HIV Status.

He emphasised that there needs to be more information about sexually transmitted diseases widely available.

“HIV will continue to thrive wherever there is a lack of tailored information, support or no opportunity for gay and bisexual men to discuss their sexual health needs,” he said.

“HIV testing does need to become more normalised. The evidence shows that more gay and bisexual men are accessing testing services and like to do this in a wide variety of settings, including community based testing.

“The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, through our partnership with Manchester Centre for Sexual Health,  provide a safe and trusted place where gay and bisexual men can not only get tested but also talk about the issues that they are affected by.

The NHS notes that people infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection and after this there could be no further symptoms for several years.

The message, from Ms Robinson and the George House Trust, is: “Get tested regularly, don’t take risks, practice safe sex and don’t be embarrassed to come forward.”

For more information on the George House Trust for those living with HIV in Greater Manchester visit www.ght.org.uk

Picture courtesy of Wheeler Cowperthwaite, with thanks.

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