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New £20m NIHR project announced to combat HIV in England

In England, an estimated 4,500 people are living with undiagnosed HIV

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced a new National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) project to evaluate the expansion of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) opt-out testing programme to new sites in England.

Backed by £20m of NIHR funding, the expansion could identify a significant proportion of the estimated 4,500 people living with undiagnosed HIV in England.

HIV is a virus that damages the cells in the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS, which currently has no effective cure.

The expansion builds on the currently existing blood borne virus (BBV) opt-out testing programme, which was launched last year, to save and improve the quality of thousands of lives.

Within the first 18 months of the BBVs opt-out testing programme, nearly 1.5 million HIV tests, over 900,000 hepatitis C virus tests and over 700,000 hepatitis B virus tests were conducted across 33 emergency departments.

Across 46 new sites in England, covering 32 areas with a high prevalence of HIV, the research will evaluate the testing programme to prevent new transmissions by testing people’s blood, which has already been taken in emergency departments for BBVs, including HIV and hepatitis B and C.

The evaluation will help to reach the government’s goal of reducing new HIV admissions by 80% in 2025 and ending new transmissions of the infection in England by 2030, according to the UK government’s updated HIV Action Plan.

Additionally, it could help to address health inequalities by reaching groups, including ethnic minorities or women, who may be disproportionately affected by higher rates of certain BBVs.

Professor Lucy Chappell, chief scientific adviser, DHSC, and chief executive officer, NIHR, said: “By expanding this… opt-out scheme as part of a research project, not only are we delivering it to new parts of the country, but we can gather more useful evidence for the future.”


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