November  2001

HIV complacency fears



HIV awareness campaigns were run in the 1980s MPs are concerned that the public has become too complacent about the continuing threat posed by HIV and Aids.

A backbench debate on sexual health in Westminster Hall on Tuesday heard calls for a high-profile television campaign to keep the issue at the forefront of the public consciousness.

There was concern that advances in treatment had led to a creeping sense of complacency - even though numbers of HIV cases are still rising.

Last year 3,616 people were diagnosed with HIV - the highest in a decade and a 20% increase on the previous year.

The government was criticised for "procrastination and delay" over the publication of its HIV and Aids strategy in July after four years' in production.

Dr Gavin Strang (Lab Edinburgh E and Musselburgh), who initiated the debate, said: "It is a matter of great concern and disappointment that against a background of the progress made in previous years, we are seeing high numbers of new infections every year.

"In this day and age, every new HIV infection represents a failure of prevention.

"The prevention work has been allowed to go off the boil in the latter years of the epidemic. There is a real sense in which prevention work has not kept up with the changing nature of the epidemic."

He said that the efforts to raise awareness of HIV and Aids in the 1980s had not been sustained.

"This may be at least in part because of a measure of complacency because combination therapy means many are now leading relatively normal lives who would not otherwise be doing so."

Funding problems

Neil Gerrard (Lab Walthamstow), chairman of the all party parliamentary group on Aids, criticised a decision not to ring fence money for HIV awareness from April 2002.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, called on ministers to repel the controversial Section 28 legislation outlawing the promotion of homosexuality.

He said the policy was inhibiting progress on sexual health education.

Tory health spokesman Simon Burns said the level of ignorance concerning sexual health generally and HIV and Aids in particular was "staggering".

He said: "Far more has got to be done yet again to bring home to people the Russian Roulette element of what they are doing with their lives if they are not prepared to heed the message, or they are genuinely ignorant of the message, of safe sex."

He said the high-profile television advertising of the issue in the 1980s was "highly controversial".

But he added: "It was effective, it was hard hitting, it did get the message across and people began to equate in their minds that they should use safe sex constantly, but sadly time and the lack of advertising and constantly reminding people of the message has dulled that message."

Delay inevitable

Junior health minister Hazel Blears said the delay in publication of the government's strategy was in part due to the need for extensive consultation with people in the field.

She said: "One of the key aims of the strategy is to try to build up an evidence base about what kind of promotion work actually is effective.

"It is going to be a very important part of our work to draw together what actually works otherwise there is a danger that we won't get maximum value."

Ms Blear said that health authorities would be "closely monitored" to ensure spending did take place on Aids and HIV prevention.