A study done by researchers of Queen Mary University of London, where patients at 40 GP practices in Hackney, Inner London, were given HIV screenings upon registration; has shown that the rate of diagnosis for the disease has improved four-fold. The researchers claimed that this should be the case as 13,500 people in the UK do not know that they are carriers of the disease and risk infecting others as they are missing out on treatment.

In addition, the UN has recently reported that, for the first time in a long time, more than half of those infected with HIV in the world are taking medication and getting the proper treatment. This consequently leads to halving the death rates, as well.

Perhaps, as warranted by the researchers of the study, calling an immediate roll-out on the rapid HIV tests at GP practices in high-risk areas will lower the mortality rates substantially. Hackney is among the 74 high-risk areas in England, characterised by having more than two diagnosed adults in 1,000 people in the given area.

Cost-effective and cost saving

The annual cost of rolling out the HIV screening to the 74 high risk areas was estimated at a whopping GBP4 million. Through a mathematical simulation, this cost would likely be recovered after 33 years. However, considering the grand cost a late diagnosis would incur – this initial spending might become cost-effective far sooner.

Dr Werner Leber, from Queen Mary University of London, who led the study which involved 86,000 people noted, "We've shown that HIV screening in UK primary care is cost effective and potentially cost saving, which is contrary to widespread belief. This is an important finding given today's austerity.”

Currently, people are only tested for HIV when they show symptoms. Seemingly, HIV testing has taken a back seat for some areas due to local authorities’ budget constraints. However, the study has further revealed that although the initial costs were high – mostly due to the fact that those diagnosed would need anti-retroviral treatment – the early screening would in fact be cost effective in the long run.

Self-testing kits in the future

The significance of detecting HIV early through effective HIV testing is that, people can expect to live normal life spans without risking infecting others. This is due to early commission of treatment, keeping the virus transmission at bay; thus, the patient gains a higher chance of staying healthy.

Dr Michael Brady, medical director of the Terence Higgins Trust remarked that “testing in general practice is a key component of this."

However, head of the Royal College of GPs, Helen Stokes-Lampard echoed a different opinion. She stated, “Random and routine testing of all patients is not the answer. It is difficult to see how hard-pressed GPs and their teams could actually do this on current resources, as we have a severe workforce shortage."

In which case, Brady suggests self-testing kits to counter the problem. Nevertheless, until then, he said, “It makes financial sense to invest in testing to prevent the extra cost to the NHS down the line." MIMS

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