A LEADING HIV charity is launching a project that it hopes will save lives in the midst of a Glasgow epidemic of the blood borne virus – the worst in the UK since the eighties – that experts claim has still not been contained.

Waverley Care’s HIV street support project, which will be set up in coming weeks and aims to be fully operational by World AIDS day on December 1, will work with addicts in the city to bring HIV testing, harm reduction advice and one-to-one support to those not using other services.

Since 2015, there have been 133 people diagnosed with HIV in Glasgow, with testing suggesting cases are linked and largely spread by sharing needles while injecting drugs.

So far only 14 new cases have been identified in 2018, however workers claim some may not have been picked up.

An estimated one in five people who regularly inject drugs in public places in the city centre are now living with HIV, with most struggling to get the help they need due to chaotic lifestyles associated with addiction. While some are street homeless, others have accommodation but spend much of their time begging in the city centre.

More than 20 of those diagnosed since then have died of drug overdoses and other health related problems, which may have been picked up if those with HIV were engaging with health services.

Street workers on the new project will be aiming to get the message out that though there is still not a cure for HIV it is both preventable and treatable. They claim that too many people remain “traumatised” by the 1980s public health messages – featuring icebergs and tombstones and featuring the phrase “Don’t die of ignorance”.

For those taking daily modern medications HIV becomes undetectable – usually within six months – which means it cannot be transmitted to others. However if people stop taking medicines – an issue for those with addiction – levels of HIV in the blood can rise.

Claire Kofman, the manager of the Waverley Care project, funded by the Big Lottery, said it would allow the charity to take a more proactive approach.

“Glasgow’s currently experiencing the biggest outbreak of HIV seen anywhere in the UK since the 1980s,” she said. “More often than not, the people we really want to reach are isolated from health and social care services that can help them. Our project will take support directly to people on the street, making it as easy as possible for them to access HIV testing and treatment, along with information and advice.”

The project will also help people with issues like homelessness, poverty, and poor mental health, helping them focus on their health.

Dr Linda de Caestecker, director of public health at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, welcomed the project, which will work to support NHS nurses running HIV clinics in the community. She added: “This project will be a valuable addition to the range of interventions that are underway in the city to address the recent HIV outbreak.”

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David Liddell, CEO of Scottish Drugs Forum, said he remained alarmed about the outbreak. “The outbreak is uncontained, as can be evidenced by cases being identified beyond Glasgow. Firstly, we need to regularly test all people at risk to ensure that people who have HIV are aware of their status. Secondly, we need to ensure that people who are living with HIV are engaged in treatment and, thirdly, ensure that this treatment is effective and reduces their viral load to undetectable levels.” He said the Waverley Care project would be “very welcomed” in helping achieve this.

However the charity believes a drug consumption room – where drugs could be taken under supervised conditions, with harm reduction and addiction advice given on site – is still needed. A Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership’s proposal was ruled out by the Home Office this year.

Alison Thewliss SNP MP for Glasgow Central called for the UK Government to send a minister Glasgow to see the desperate need for a drug consumption room. She noted a recent report by the The National Aids Trust (NAT) claimed there was a “indubitable link” between the recent outbreak of HIV in Glasgow and the frequency with which people are injecting drugs.

“Clearly, people are not engaging with the existing services on offer, which is why I have asked the government to allow for a Safe Drug Consumption Facility (SDCF) to be set-up – even on a trial basis,” she said.

“How many more people must die on the streets and back lanes of Glasgow before the Home Office will act? The UK Government is fast running out of excuses.”

Joe Fitzpatrick Scottish Minister for Public Health, said it supported the Glasgow proposals for a safer consumption facility and continued to press the UK Government on the issue. He added: “We are working closely with NHS boards to reduce blood borne viruses and are providing third sector funding of £2.13 million over the next three years to organisations dealing with sexual health and blood borne viruses.”