By Lauren Copes
ESSEX has seen an increase in HIV cases over the last year, with Southend and Thurrock having some of the highest rates in the county, according to new figures.
The statistics, published in a Public Health England Report, were released in the run up to National HIV Testing Week last week.
Overall, there has been an increase of 38 per cent of people newly diagnosed in Anglia and Essex in 2012. The total number accessing HIV care in the area was 3,020, with an estimated figure of 3,870 people living with the infection.
Worryingly, around a fifth of these are estimated to be undiagnosed and more likely to pass the disease on.
Southend has the highest prevalence of cases in the East of England, with 287 people aged 15 to 59 being treated in the borough and an increase from 281. Thurrock came in third with 188 cases.
Figures earlier in the year revealed that cases of HIV in Harlow over the past ten years had risen dramatically. At the time, one in 308 people living in the town had the disease, compared to one in 1,143 in 2002.
The recent statistics have lead to Councillors and MPs in Essex to call for action.
Stephen Metcalfe, MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, joined UK activists at a STOPAIDS Parliamentary event last week.
He was there to mark the 25th World AIDS Day on December 1 and to demonstrate his support for the UK’s pledge of £1bn to the global fund.
Mr Metcalfe said: “I fully support the UK’s pledge of £1bn to the Global Fund and encourage other world leaders to join us in committing to bring this disease under control.
“I urge our government to remain focused on overcoming the challenge AIDS continues to pose to our international community.”
The local MP has called for people of South Basildon and East Thurrock to ‘Fact Up’ and become more educated about the condition.
The facts dispel common myths about HIV, which include that there are limitations on jobs that suffers can do and that people living with HIV can not expect to live a normal life.
Councillor for Chadwell and former senior Nurse Barbara Rice also thinks that people need to be better educated: “We have become almost ‘oh HIV’ about it, and because people think that now there is a drug that can give you a nearly normal life, they don’t see it as a life changing disease.
“I think we need to lobby nationally and ask for another campaign, like the Drink Aware ones. It’s about time for another one to do with HIV.”
Experts say that the most difficult thing about dealing with HIV is combatting the public attitude.
Adam Wilkinson, Regional Manager for Terrence Higgins Trust in the East, said: “One of the biggest challenges is stigma and prejudice. People look at the personal side of it, assume it is transmitted sexually and make a value judgment.”
Mr Wilkinson described the prejudice faced by sufferers as “crippling”.
“For example, if someone who lived locally was diagnosed with cancer, people would be round with cakes and doing whatever they could to help. If someone is diagnosed with HIV, people won’t knock on the door. They would still move away,” he continued.
For information and support, visit the Terrence Higgins Trust website at www.tht.org.uk and use their free clinic finder.