HIV/AIDS

– in the House of Lords at 11:16 am on 17 November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative 11:16, 17 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they are making towards preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, government measures to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS were set out in the public health White Paper Choosing Health, published last November. These included a new, high-profile national campaign to promote safer sex messages, aimed at reducing the prevalence and spread of all sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

A key aim of our strategy is the reduction in the number of HIV-positive people unaware of their condition, and this is happening. The Government are also carrying out targeted work with key high-risk groups such as gay men and African communities. This year, £1.6 million is being invested specifically targeting these groups, working closely with the Terrence Higgins Trust and the African HIV Policy Network.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware of a case, widely reported at the weekend, where one man claimed to have been cured of HIV/AIDS. Will the Minister reiterate that whatever the truth is in that particular case, the best advice firmly remains that there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for AIDS, and that the best hope of preventing the spread of the virus is in public education, which places a great responsibility on the Government?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I understand that the full details of the very unusual case that the noble Lord mentioned are unclear. What he says is absolutely right and we take our public education responsibilities in this area seriously, as I tried to indicate in the Answer. I pay tribute to the work that the noble Lord has carried out on this issue over a long period of time.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Liberal Democrat

My Lords, while endorsing the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that there is no cure for AIDS—and many young people in this country now think that there is—the Government have displayed a certain amount of complacency on this issue over the past eight years. Why is there little mention of the subject in the public health White Paper, because this is a public health issue? Why is it that vulnerable groups, particularly failed asylum seekers, now have to pay for treatment for AIDS and intercurrent infections? Is that not a very false economy indeed, when they can still spread AIDS infections throughout the community?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, on that last point, the policy on charging overseas visitors for HIV treatment has been the same ever since the appropriate regulations were introduced in 1989. The initial diagnostic testing for HIV/AIDS and any associated counselling is free to all, but should a test prove positive, subsequent treatment, including drug therapy, is not. That is the position on charging.

I shall not go through a long list of what the Government have done, but I refute what the noble Baroness has said about complacency. The UK has a relatively low HIV prevalence compared with other EU countries as a result of sustained public education and health promotion campaigns, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, what progress is being made in the development of microbicides, which we have been told may produce a great way of preventing the spread of the disease and on which I know research is being carried out in this country? Is any progress being made in the production of microbicides?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I believe that progress is being made, but rather than speculate on that, I shall look into the matter in more detail and write to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative

My Lords, are there any plans to test those who come from abroad and who wish to live within our shores?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, we already have good arrangements for screening people, when appropriate, and we are making good progress in targeting those areas.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, do the Government really want to put the lives of unborn babies at risk? I can hardly believe that they do. Is the Minister aware that midwives and physicians are becoming increasingly concerned that the new charging system introduced in April 2004 is acting as a deterrent to anti-retroviral treatment being given to HIV-positive pregnant women?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, my understanding was that antenatal HIV screening has been one of our success stories. We have significantly reduced the mother-to-baby transmission of HIV. I shall certainly look into that and write to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Colwyn Lord Colwyn Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that conventional therapy uses toxic chemical weapons against the virus that may eventually fail by allowing the emergence of resistant strains? Are not long-term survival and prevention dependent on a healthy lifestyle and the use of therapies to support inherent healing systems?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I do not share the noble Lord's description of some of the well tried and tested therapies that are being applied, but I certainly support the idea that safer sex and healthy lifestyles will improve the situation.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs

My Lords, what arrangements are there for ensuring that information is available to patients attending GP surgeries and outpatient clinics in hospitals?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, from my own experience and from the experience of others, I know that a wide variety of information is available in GP surgeries on a wide range of issues, including these matters.