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Ending stigma towards HIV is the first step towards ending AIDS

On this World AIDS Day the National AIDS Trust’s theme is stigma, and there is so much that healthcare workers can do to help to combat stigma from the frontlines. The recently published UK Stigma Index highlighted the real problem in healthcare, with only 58% of people living with HIV feeling well supported by their GP practice, and 13% having heard negative comments from a healthcare worker about themselves or other people living with HIV in the past 12 months.

The latest data published by Public Health England show that, despite some improvements, as a nation we are still missing thousands of opportunities to diagnose HIV each year. Also, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published new guidance that calls on healthcare workers to optimise chances for testing and early diagnosis, yet we know that, despite NICE recommending since 2011 that GP practices and hospitals in high prevalence areas test for HIV, only a small percentage do so.

These missed opportunities to test and diagnose HIV result in harm to individuals and to public health efforts. Those diagnosed late with HIV are ten times more likely to die within a year of diagnosis, and those diagnosed very late lose an average of ten years of life expectancy. People diagnosed late with HIV have been living with the virus for an average of four years, during which time they may have been unknowingly passing it on to others.

So we know that the challenge is huge, and we know that we cannot hope to make progress without the help of healthcare workers such as pharmacists and their colleagues. With your help we can demystify and destigmatise HIV, ensure that every person with an indicator condition for HIV is offered an HIV test at the earliest opportunity, and grow the number of GP practices and hospitals offering opt-out HIV testing as standard. We have all the tools we need to end this epidemic — all that is missing is the will.

Deborah Gold

Chief executive

National AIDS Trust

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2016.20202034

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