Bedford has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country – and urgently needs investment in screening to help save lives.
That is the view of health experts following a nation-wide study which involved over 86,000 people from 40 GP surgeries across England.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine looked at diagnosed HIV prevalence in people aged 15-59.
They say that now is the time to act to help save lives.
Dr Werner Leber from QMUL said: “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. Financial pressures, particularly within local authority public health budgets, mean that the costs of HIV testing are under intense scrutiny, and in some areas investment in testing has fallen.”
The study found that 2.37 people in every 1,000 has HIV in Bedford Borough.
This puts the area in the top 16 per cent, and well above the recommended threshold for investing in new screening.
People with HIV have a near normal life expectancy if they are diagnosed early and have treatment; those taking effective treatment are also no longer infectious to other people.
But in the UK around 13,500 people do not know that they have HIV, meaning they miss out on treatment, remain infectious to others and become more expensive to treat in the future.
Karen Dowle, spokesman for Public Health England East of England which oversees health regionally, also backed the call.
Bedford Borough Councillor Louise Jackson said: “The councils continue to work with partners to ensure that HIV tests are easily accessible, particularly to those in higher risk groups, by providing outreach testing within the community and testing at the dedicated contraception and sexual health clinic and within GP practices across Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire.”