HIV ‘apathy’ in Manchester: City’s battle against disease not being won as infection rates fail to fall

By Edward Roberts & Jess Owen

The battle against the spread of HIV in Manchester is not being won, new figures reveal.

The disease is spreading at the same rate it was last year despite multiple awareness campaigns running across the region.

The number of newly diagnosed patients in Manchester is almost identical to last year – with only ONE less infection.

In 2012 there were 442 new cases of HIV. A year earlier there were 443.

The report by Liverpool John Moores University also identifies a disturbing pattern highlighting Manchester’s inadequacy to offer tests in line with the national standard.

GUM clinics were found to have neglected 28% of their attendees by failing to offer them a HIV test. This figure is up 7% from the national average.

In line with this, Manchester exceeded the average number of people being diagnosed with AIDS, with 15% of new patients testing positive in the later stages of the infection.

The statistics reflect the region’s inability to effectively tackle the prevalence of HIV, both in terms of prevention and detection, despite global HIV rates falling by a third since 2001.

Jane Harris, the HIV Surveillance Manager at the Centre for Public Health, believes the figures display worrying trends.

She said: “There is a trend that is being seen nationally. There is a growth of people living with HIV, but there’s not a drop in new cases. It’s stabilising.”

The gay community in the North West continues to be at threat with 50% of new cases arising from same-sex relations.

These figures are startling in light of several proactive campaigns that run throughout Manchester and Canal Street which seek to raise awareness.

In particular, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation run a widespread initiative that includes posters calling for gay men to practise safe sex by asking ‘Do You Know Your HIV status?’

“There’s the idea of HIV apathy, it’s not a priority like it was before so perhaps people are aware of the schemes but it’s not translating into action,” said Ms Harris.

“The campaigns are dissipated now, it’s not as much as a priority as it was in the 80s and 90s.

“There is something in the prevention messages that isn’t getting across to people.”

Groups like the LGF are urging for greater methods of testing, such as promoting home testing kits.

The LGF Director, Rob Cookson, spoke of why alternative and more accessible methods of testing are beneficial

He said:  “Some of the reasons why gay and bisexual men choose not to test remain the same; such as fear of a positive result and myths about what the actual test might involve and being able to access a test.

“Early testing saves lives – if someone is diagnosed late with HIV infection then treatment can be more difficult.”

However, Ms Harris questioned whether it is a testing issue or whether individual’s actions should be further analysed.

She said: ‘What we’re seeing is perhaps an increased complacency now that HIV is a treatable chronic condition rather than a terminal disease.

“The figures show that gay men especially aren’t recognising when they are putting themselves at risk.

“Then because people aren’t aware for such a long time they’re increasing the risk of transmission.”

The most recent Sigma Research’s Gay Men’s Sex Survey carried out in 2010, revealed shocking rates of gay men in the North West having never been tested for HIV.

The survey found that 28% of men having sex with men in England, and 36% of those in the North West, had never been tested for HIV. 

“It is important to remember that eight out of ten gay and bisexual men who get HIV get it from a man who doesn’t realise he has it,” said Mr Cookson.

Other alarming statistics from the report indicate that prisons are also failing to test adequately. Tests were offered to only 61% of inmates, considerably down from 83% the year before.

Around one in four who are living with HIV do not know they have it.

The National Sexual Health Programme, part of HIV Prevention England, has developed National Testing Week, which is November 22 until November 29. 

Picture courtesy of TechFun, with thanks.

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