Time to Test conference emphasises the need for earlier and wider HIV testing

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 02 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6949
  1. Matthew Billingsley
  1. 1BMJ

Earlier testing of a wider range of patients could reduce the number of undiagnosed HIV cases, said speakers at the Time to Test conference in London on 1 December.

To coincide with World AIDS Day and the findings of several studies sponsored by the Department of Health, delegates at the conference were told that only one quarter of undiagnosed HIV positive patients are correctly targeted and diagnosed by clinicians. Offering HIV testing earlier and for all admissions could help identify the remaining three quarters that are currently missed.

Another key message from the studies was that HIV diagnoses are often late because healthcare professionals have preconceived ideas about the “type” of patient likely to have HIV.

Speaking at the conference, Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: “Early diagnosis is one of the most important steps that can be taken to secure good outcomes for patients with HIV. As patterns of transmission change and the number of local areas with a high prevalence of HIV continues to remain high, clinical teams and commissioners need to be more proactive in their efforts to get patients into treatment early.”

By testing earlier and more widely for HIV, the pilot studies diagnosed 50 previously undiagnosed people with HIV. The studies also showed that most patients did not object to being offered a test—95% of the patients participating in the studies considered the offer of a routine HIV test as acceptable practice.

Dr Catrin Evans, of the National HIV Nurses Association, stressed the need for healthcare professionals to be more rigorously involved in testing for HIV. “The projects show that HIV testing cannot be confined to specialist nursing roles, but that all nurses are HIV nurses.”

Routine testing for HIV also includes cost benefits to healthcare providers. “The lifetime cost of each new HIV infection in the UK is between £280 000 (€333 700; $435 800) and £360 000, so the public health benefits of routine HIV testing are clear for all to see. It is vital that all clinicians working in high prevalence areas—and those elsewhere who see patients with atypical symptoms—take heed of these results and recognise that it is time to test,” said Keith Radcliffe, president of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV.

Specialists in HIV also announced the launch of the Halve It campaign. Ian Williams, chair of the British Human Immunodeficiency Virus Association, and the Time to Test conference steering committee stated that this is “a coalition of national professional organisations and experts in HIV, aiming to halve both the proportion of late diagnosis and people living with undiagnosed HIV, within five years.”

The findings announced at the conference follow statistics released by the Health Protection Agency that showed that over half (52%) of HIV diagnoses were diagnosed late. An estimated 86 500 people living with HIV in the UK, a quarter of whom are unaware of their infection (BMJ 2010;341:c6838; doi: 10.1136/bmj.c6838).


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6949

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