New project to avoid HIV in high risk groups

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A NEW Talk and Test scheme has been launched in Wigan and across Greater Manchester in the latest bid to stem the rise of new HIV and Aids infections.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus remains a major public health concern, experts say, with rates of infection continuing to rise among certain groups of the population.

And the new Greater Manchester Talk and Test project aims to address this through tackling late HIV diagnosis among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and Black African communities. These risk groups continue to carry a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic in England.

Latest figures for Wigan - which date from 2013 - show the overall rate of new infections falling, with 17 new cases reported. A total of 52.9 per cent of Wigan patients were diagnosed early, compared to 40.2 per cent across Greater Manchester. And there were 216 people with HIV in the borough.

The LGBT Foundation is working in partnership with BHA for Equality to deliver Point of Care Testing (POCT), supported by a multi-agency project steering group which includes membership from the local PHE Team, Greater Manchester Commissioners and Wigan-based Bridgewater Community Healthcare Trust.

A report by the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University shows that Greater Manchester had the highest number of HIV cases (4,482) and the greatest number of new cases (468).

There has also been 14 per cent rise in the number of young people in the North West accessing HIV care for the first time - this is the equivalent of two young people seeking treatment each week.

Greater Manchester also had the highest number infected through injecting drug use, accounting for 68 per cent infected by this route in the region. However, targeted and innovative local initiatives can reduce the risk of people catching or passing on HIV.

During the year-long project it will: provide community-based POCT aimed at gay, bisexual and MSM and African communities; provide 1,000 HIV tests; undertake wellbeing assessments and health goal-setting, maximising the value of each contact; discuss risk reduction strategies and provide condoms and lubrication; and offer follow-up assessments to those that opt in, to encourage regular testing and outcome measuring.

This news was released in the run-up to National HIV Testing Week which starts on Monday and followed by World AIDS Day on December 1.

Rob Cookson, Deputy Chief Executive for the LGBT Foundation said: “All of us are delighted that we have been successful; as a result of this initiative, around 1,000 people will know their HIV status. This community based testing initiative; Talk and Test will make a direct contribution to tackling late HIV diagnosis amongst, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and Black African communities.”

Prof Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England said: “While we are seeing HIV rates declining in the general population, it is still a serious problem within certain communities.

“The national innovation fund supports projects that offer creative approaches to a longstanding issue, boosting local action to help reduce the rates of HIV among high-risk groups, such as gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and Black African Communities.”