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HIV cases in Croydon double in a decade

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A CHARITY has urged the council to take action on HIV as it emerged the number of people in Croydon with the virus has almost doubled in the past decade.

The borough has among the highest rates of HIV in the UK, with an estimated one in every 170 people living with the virus, compared to one in every 300 in 2002.

More than half were diagnosed late, risking decreased life expectancy and a greater chance of passing the condition on.

Local authorities will be responsible for public health from April and the National Aids Trust (NAT) has called on Croydon to allocate a fair share of its £18.32 million Government funding specifically to HIV.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of NAT, said: "Worryingly, with that budget there will be no ring fencing for HIV. We need a strong commitment from Croydon councillors to ensure prevention and testing continue to receive the necessary funding.

"Disinvestment in HIV prevention and testing would seriously harm public health."

NHS Croydon spent £47,000 on HIV testing and £38,000 on sexual health promotion in 2012/13. The council was unable to say what next year's spending will be.

Nearly 1,100 people in Croydon have Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a condition which weakens and eventually destroys the body's defence system. A further 300 are estimated to be unaware they have the virus. In southwest London, only Wandsworth has a higher rate of infection.

Robert Adams, health promotion officer for Shaka Services, which provides sexual health and HIV prevention information to African communities in Croydon, said the borough is not the only area with a high rate.

He said: "The problem is across South London and you also need to take into consideration that people travel to get tested, often choosing not to test in their own locality, so the figures do not give a true picture of where people live or what borough has a higher HIV prevalence."

Fifty-nine per cent of people with HIV in Croydon were diagnosed late. The sooner HIV is treated, the less likely it is to develop into Aids.

"HIV is treatable, with an excellent long-term prognosis, especially if diagnosed early," said Dr David Phillips, clinical lead for sexual health at Croydon Health Services.

"Unfortunately in Croydon, too many people end up testing too late."

The Sexual Health Centre at Croydon University Hospital offers free and confidential HIV testing, and all patients attending the Acute Medical Unit are encouraged to be screened as part of the normal set of tests.

NHS Croydon has recently launched an awareness campaign, including posters on buses and trams.

The council says it has identified sexual health as a priority.

Margaret Mead, cabinet member for adult services and health, said: "The strategies are in place. We will be working with GPs and pharmacies to provide people with as much information as we can.

"Men in particular are not very good at seeking early treatment. They think it's bad news but that's not always the case. The message we have to get across is that by going early it's treatable and the key to that is publicity."

Shaka Services believes advice about the dangers of HIV should be aimed at gay men in black communities. "We feel and strongly recommend there should be a 24-hour helpline for black men who are having sex with men," said Mr Adams. "The phone line would be manned by black men who understand their experiences, prejudices and homophobia within the black community. "Also, it needs to be well advertised within this community." In 2009, more than 2,000 black Africans were diagnosed with HIV – one third of all new diagnoses in the UK. Shaka organises workshops focusing on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and safe sex, particularly focused on the borough's African communities. It also runs a World Aids Day event at Thornton Heath Leisure Centre and has distributed thousands of sexual health information leaflets.

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