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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Syphilis crisis continues as sex diseases rise

Senior MPs warn of a crisis in sexual diseases among the young with the prospect of a 50% rise in cases within the next three years. A report by the House of Commons Health Select Commitee reveals that the number of people attending clinics for diseases ranging from chlamydia to gonorrhoea has more than doubled in 10 years.
Government plans to tackle ‘Health Tourism’ may have serious effects on public heath and the fight against HIV. The concludes that failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants with HIV should receive free treatment to reduce the likelihood of onward transmission of HIV.
Under new Government rules, individuals who are in the UK without proper authority, including failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers and illegal immigrants, are no longer able to access free treatment on the NHS.
Treatment for certain infectious diseases is free of charge on public health grounds – but while this includes treatment for TB and sexually transmitted infections, it does not include treatment for HIV.
The reports concludes that if free treatment is not available, people may be deterred from taking an HIV test, and will remain in the community undiagnosed and infectious. Evidence also suggests that HIV treatment can in fact significantly lower an individual’s infectiousness, reducing the potential for onward transmission.
Committee Chairman David Hinchliffe said “The Committee does not underestimate the difficulties the Government faces in combating ‘health tourism’, and it’s vital that the UK does not become a magnet for HIV positive individuals seeking to emigrate to this country to access our health care. However, we have seen no evidence that this is happening. The Government has no estimates of the numbers of people likely to be involved in health tourism, or of what they might be costing the NHS.
Evidence actually suggests that HIV positive migrants do not access NHS services until their disease is very advanced, sometimes years after their arrival in the UK.
The public health issue is a real concern – the Health Protection Agency, the Government’s own public health advisory body, said that if these individuals are not treated, and they remain sexually active in this country, then ‘transmission is bound to go up’.”
The report also notes that rates of sexually transmitted infections have continued to rise, as have waiting times for sexual health clinics. In fact, according to one of the Committee’s witnesses, there is a “continuing crisis in sexual health”.
To reduce the risk of onward transmission of sexually transmitted infections, the Government is aiming for all patients to be seen within 48 hours of requesting an appointment. However, the latest figures indicate that only 38% of people get an appointment within 48 hours, and over a quarter have to wait more than two weeks.
Commenting, David Hinchliffe said, “Rates of sexually transmitted infections are still rising, and sexual health services are more overstretched than ever. The Government has announced extra investment and new targets around sexual health, which we welcome, but they will need to monitor the situation closely over the coming years to ensure the extra investment actually reaches clinics to enable them to deliver better services.”
"It is particularly important that sexual health services are able to meet the extra demand that will be generated by the Government’s planned health education campaign. “Educating young people about relationships and sexual health is one of the most powerful tools we have to promote better sexual health. However, young people are still being taught about sex and relationships by teachers who lack both competence and confidence in this area.”
The Health Committee recommends:
* Government’s sexual health education campaign should not begin until it is certain that sexual health services will be able to meet increased demand
* Government should conduct a financial audit to ensure that extra sexual health funding actually reaches sexual health clinics
* Chlamydia screening should focus on men as well as women
* The Government should give GPs better incentives to provide sexual health services. A dedicated sexual health training programme should also be established for those working in primary care
* By 2007, all sex and relationships education in schools should be taught by a specialist teacher rather than a form tutor.
* Sex and relationships education should be a statutory and assessed part of the national curriculum in schools.
* All HIV+ people regardless of their eligibility status should receive free treatment to reduce the likelihood of onward transmission of HIV

The report's title is ‘New Developments in HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health Policy and is published as their third report of Session 2004-05 (HC 252).


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