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posted Friday, March 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 09
Brits offer free HIV meds to foreigners
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Brits offer free HIV meds to foreigners

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The British government announced on February 27 that it would offer free HIV treatment to foreign nationals living in England. The move brings England into line with Scotland and Wales, which already offer free treatment to HIV-positive foreigners.

British citizens and permanent residents from abroad also receive free HIV meds through Britain's National Health Service (NHS).

Those who will now be covered by the new NHS rules are refugees who have not been granted asylum in Britain, foreign students, and tourists.

'This is good news for people living in the UK who are HIV-positive and also for public health in general,' British HIV Association chair Jane Anderson said.

British Public Health Minister Anne Milton said the new policy will treat HIV like other infectious diseases.

'This measure will protect the public and brings HIV treatment into line with all other infectious diseases. Treating people with HIV means they are very unlikely to pass the infection on to others,' Milton said.

Yusef Azad, director of policy at the National AIDS Trust, said that providing treatment to all HIV-positive people in Britain would save the NHS money in the long run.

'If someone is tested and treated early, it is much cheaper than them presenting themselves in hospital with a much more serious, complex condition that can cost tens of thousands of pounds to treat,' he said.

Lisa Power, policy director for Terrence Higgins Trust, a private HIV/AIDS foundation, agreed.

'We strongly support this move by the government to bring HIV in line with all the other sexually transmitted infections which are free from charge on public health grounds,' she said.

'It makes no sense to deny people medication that dramatically reduces the risk of them passing on their infection to others.

'Leaving people without treatment also means the NHS pays far more further down the line when someone's health fails and they need emergency care. These changes will protect more people from HIV infection in the U.K. and will save the NHS money in the longer term.'

According to BBC News, there are an estimated 25,000 people with undiagnosed HIV in Britain, and many of them were born abroad.

Critics of the new policy worried that it would spark a wave of so-called health tourism and put the NHS under further financial pressure. The British government replied that the new rules require a six-month residence in the country.

Even if someone wished to enter Britain specifically for free HIV treatments, the Department of Health said, it would be very difficult for them since the process takes months to administer and monitor.

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