Twenty-five years after the first documented case of the illness that became known as AIDS, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is marking World Aids Day with a plea for greater vigilance and awareness among the public. The annual global focus on the growing problem of HIV/AIDS is this year set against a backdrop of the stark rise in the number of infected Scots, which has now reached record levels.
In 2005, the most recent whole year for which figures are available, 120 new cases of HIV infection were reported within the former NHS Greater Glasgow. This is the highest number in any year since records began and brings the total number of cases in Greater Glasgow between 1981 and 2005 to 1065.
Dr Syed Ahmed, a Consultant in Public Health Medicine with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: "We know more now about how HIV is transmitted and how it can be prevented than ever before, but the number of people being diagnosed is higher than it has ever been. Now, this is likely to be down to increased numbers of people coming forward for testing, but it's important to remember that the spreading of HIV can largely be prevented.
"We know that 120 people were diagnosed HIV positive in Greater Glasgow in 2005. A very large majority of those people were infected through sex; 52 from heterosexual sex and 54 from sex between men. That tells me that there's a lot to be gained from paying more attention to the safer sex message."
Using condoms remains the single most successful method of practising safer sex and preventing the spread of HIV. Free condoms and lubricant are available at a number of venues across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde through the C-Card scheme (more information is available via www.sandyford.org).
Two of the 120 new cases reported in Greater Glasgow last year were attributed to injecting drug use, and 12 were believed to have been transmitted through other means. The new patients were found in all age groups, with four children under the age of 15 being diagnosed.
Patients who are diagnosed as HIV positive in the UK can expect to benefit from anti-retroviral drug treatments, but there remains no cure for the condition. With record levels of HIV infection in Scotland, Dr Ahmed is keen to stress that HIV/AIDS remains a potential threat throughout society: "It's true that testing positive for HIV is not the death sentence it once was. Remarkable advances have been made and some wonderful drug therapies are now available. Many people live relatively healthy lives with HIV for a number of years after their initial diagnosis, but there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS.
Dr Ahmed points out that early testing of HIV-infected people and access treatment remain crucial in reducing ill-health: "People who are diagnosed late are more than ten times more likely to die within a year of their HIV diagnosis. Therefore, anyone who has unprotected sex should get regular sexual health check-ups, including an HIV test.
"Prevention and raising awareness remain as important as they were 25 years ago."
Anyone who is worried about HIV can receive testing and counselling for free and in confidence at the Sandyford Initiative or at the Brownlee Centre on the Gartnavel General Hospital site. Help and counselling is also available at a number of other sites around NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, including the Sandyford "hub" sites at Parkhead, Govanhill and Inverclyde.
For more information please see www.sandyford.org, call the Sandyford Initiative on 0141 211 8601 or call the Brownlee Centre on 0141 211 1075.