By Christine Lavelle
HEALTH experts are warning that Edinburgh could be facing a HIV ticking time-bomb, as more than 100 new cases a year are expected over the coming decade.
The number of new infections could jump by 10 per cent, bringing the city back up to the shocking levels seen during the 1980s.
It is believed the problem is now even worse than when it hit its height 25 years ago, because medical advances mean existing patients are living with the disease for longer.
There are 1,100 cases in the NHS Lothian area – with a tenth of these arising in 2010 alone.
Treating each patient cost the health service around £10,000, meaning health bosses are looking to source over £1 million each year to cope with the epidemic.
Health chiefs have cited complacency among the city’s gay community with regards to taking care of their own sexual health, and they believe hard-hitting messages are no longer getting through to people as the disease does not carry the same level of fear as it once did.
Glenn Codere, the information manager for Health Protection Scotland on blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections, said: “The bigger picture is the pool is increasing because fewer people are dying from the disease.
“It used to be that for every new diagnosis there was a death, but medication has improved to the point where last year in Scotland there were only 40 deaths.
“It is very different now.
“In the 1980s the transmission of HIV was mainly through drug users, and now there are only a handful.
“That’s a success story in itself, but we must not get complacent and have the same effect on other groups.
“There is a generation now who weren’t exposed to the hard-hitting messages of the 1980s, and perhaps that has had an impact.
Statistics revealed in NHS Lothian’s sexual health strategy for 2011-2016 warned that growing numbers of HIV patients could coincide with a decreased budget.
The strategy said: “There are approximately 1,100 people in Lothian currently receiving treatment for HIV and it is predicted this will increase by 10 per cent per annum.
“This equates to an additional pharmacy bost to NHS Lothian between £833,00 and £1.1 million for drug treatment.
“The current economic position in the public sector means there is significant uncertainty in funding over the lifetime of this strategy.”
And – despite having less that a fifth of Scotland’s population – Lothian continually carries the label of having the worst problem with HIV in the country – with around half of known sufferers living there.
While other health boards across Scotland have noted a significant rise in recent years, none have been quite as severe as NHS Lothian.
Surveys carried out by health chiefs show that up to 50 per cent of gay men never use protection, and the disease is also on the rise among heterosexuals.
Martha Bailie, senior manager for Edinburgh-based HIV charity Waverley Care, said: “There is complacency around sexual health full stop, and this can be seen from statistics which also show syphilis is increasing.
“Treatment and care has changed a great deal, along with the demographic, but what hasn’t is stigma.
“There is a lot of ignorance about it now and that’s something that needs to change.
“It can be a barrier to people getting tested, and anyone who has HIV will live a far better life if they are receiving treatment.”
Jim Sherval, NHS Lothian’s specialist in public health medicine, said: “We know the number of people living with HIV has increased, not just in Lothian, but across Scotland, and recognise we need to continue to develop and improve our services.
“That’s why we are developing a new sexual health and HIV strategy to set out the way forward for sexual health and HIV services in Lothian.
“We are already working to raise awareness if how people can protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections and to encourage early testing, particularly among those groups who are at higher risk of infection.
“For example, our award-winning HIV Comeback Tour has helped to promote the importance of getting tested for HIV.
“We also run a number of outreach clinics to help encourage people in the at risk groups to seek advice on sexual health, and to get tested for sexually-transmitted infections.”