What is the new HIV testing scheme? Sir Elton John to urge Parliament to do more

What is the new HIV testing scheme? Sir Elton John to urge Parliament to do more

Sir Elton John is set to appear in Parliament on Wednesday evening to lobby ministers to take greater action over eradicating HIV.

The Government has a target of wiping out all new cases of the virus by 2030. However, this has been affected by the news that more than 580 previously undiagnosed cases have been identified. This has been made possible due to a new pilot opt-out testing scheme, which is being offered at all London NHS hospitals.

Sir Elton, 76, recently finished his touring career with the conclusion of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. He will now use his status to lobby MPs to introduce further opt-out testing on top of the £20 million already pledged for the scheme.

Last month, the first awareness advert about HIV aired in 40 years. It was also announced that couples with the virus will no longer be banned from having babies.

Sir Elton had earlier in the month launched a special collaborative edition Marmite jar to raise awareness for his own Aids Foundation. While the pop star has not had HIV, he feels “lucky” to have escaped the crisis in the 1980s and has campaigned about the condition for many years.

Sir Elton John at Glastonbury Festival in 2023 (PA Wire)
Sir Elton John at Glastonbury Festival in 2023 (PA Wire)

What is the new HIV testing scheme?

The NHS programme began in June 2022 and involves people getting blood checked at A&E having an extra sample of blood taken. This is screened for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. They will be given this unless they have opted out.

If the test comes back positive for HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C, the patient is offered specialist support and a treatment plan.

The pilot scheme has revealed that more than 2,000 people were unaware they had HIV or hepatitis. It has also led to around 500 patients with HIV or hepatitis being given greater care.

The NHS has invested £20 million over three years to implement a routine HIV opt-out testing programme. This is in 33 hospital emergency departments, in areas with the highest rates of diagnosed prevalence of HIV, after starting in April 2022.

What is Sir Elton John asking for?

Sir Elton is set to speak before World Aids Day on December 1.

It has not been reported exactly what he will call on ministers to provide. However, Sir Elton might ask for an extension to the testing programme for all hospitals.

The initiative has highlighted the scale of the task if the 2030 target is to be reached.

What is HIV?

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, attacks the immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV completely, so once someone has HIV, they have it for life.

HIV is transmitted through contact with certain body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk, from a person who has HIV. The most common ways HIV is transmitted include:

  1. Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person.

  2. Sharing needles or syringes with someone who has HIV.

  3. Receiving contaminated blood products or organ transplants.

  4. From mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding.=

While there is no cure for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help control the virus and allow people with HIV to live long and healthy lives. Additionally, practising safe sex, using clean needles, and taking other preventive measures can help reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Education and awareness about HIV are crucial in preventing new infections and addressing the social stigma associated with the virus.