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Expert opinion: As we mark World AIDS Day, how is the UK fairing on treatment targets?

Peter McTigue from Nottingham Law School researches employment law and discrimination against People Living with HIV / AIDS. He discusses where the UK stands on ambitious targets set by UNAIDS.

World AIDS Day takes place on Monday 1 December and marks an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and commemorate those who have died.

The landscape in relation to HIV is changing rapidly and recently the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) has outlined its vision of achieving zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination in relation to HIV and zero AIDS-related deaths worldwide.

One way in which UNAIDS aims to achieve this vision is by setting ambitious targets for individual countries. These targets, which need to be reached by 2020, include making sure that 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status; that 90% of people who know they are HIV positive are on treatment for the condition; and that 90% of people on treatment for the condition achieve an undetectable viral load i.e. the level of the virus in their body reaches a very low level.

It's important that the targets of UNAIDS are met – despite popular misconceptions people living with HIV can expect a near-normal life span if they are diagnosed promptly and, in addition, they are highly unlikely to transmit the virus onwards if the level of the virus in their body reaches undetectable levels.

Where then does the UK stand in relation to these targets? The UK's annual report in relation to HIV shows that there were an estimated 107,800 people living with HIV in the UK in 2013. The report also indicates that the country already provides HIV treatment to 90% of people attending clinical services and that 90% of those on treatment have an undetectable viral load.

Worryingly though, the country has a long way to go in ensuring that all people with HIV are aware of their HIV status - roughly a quarter of HIV positive people in the UK do not know that they are HIV positive. The only way this target will be met is by an increased uptake in individuals presenting for HIV tests.

There is still stigma associated with having a HIV test but in reality there is no reason people should be afraid to take a test. Testing for HIV at specialist clinics takes minutes rather than hours. The options for people wishing to get tested are also ever increasing.

Today, home testing kits are available which allow individuals to take a saliva sample or blood spot and send them off to a laboratory for testing. These are available to buy online and from some pharmacies. In addition, in the forthcoming months it will also be possible to buy self-testing kits that will allow an individual to test themselves and find out the results immediately.

These new opportunities for individuals to discover their HIV status should be welcomed as the earlier an individual discovers they have the virus the better their prognosis.

There is an old adage that knowledge is power - in relation to HIV not only is knowledge power, it also has the potential to save lives.

Peter McTigue
Senior Lecturer in Law
Nottingham Law School

Peter's research focuses on employment law and discrimination against people living with HIV / AIDS.

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Expert opinion: As we mark World AIDS Day, how is the UK fairing on treatment targets?

Published on 1 December 2014
  • Category: Press office; Nottingham Law School

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