United Kingdom Should Provide Free HIV/AIDS-Related Treatment to Immigrants, Asylum Seekers, Report Says
HIV-positive asylum seekers and immigrants in the United Kingdom should receive antiretroviral drugs and other HIV/AIDS-related treatment at no cost to avoid further spread of the virus, according to a report released on Sunday by the House of Commons Health Committee, London's Guardian reports. The British National Health Service currently covers the full cost of all HIV/AIDS-related treatments for British citizens (Boseley, Guardian, 3/21). Previously, NHS covered the cost of treatment for any HIV-positive person who resided in the United Kingdom for at least one year, including illegal immigrants and asylum seekers whose applications for residence had been denied, according to the report. However, the Department of Health in 2004 passed regulations saying that NHS will provide medication and care coverage only for those who have lived in the country legally for at least one year (Hinchliffe et al., "New Developments in Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Policy," 3/20). The House of Commons Health Committee in the report said requiring illegal immigrants and others to pay for the cost of their own HIV/AIDS treatment is "danger[ous]" because it can lead to the avoidance of treatment and the potential transmission of the virus to U.K. citizens, who then will require lifelong treatment subsidized by NHS, London's Times reports (Hawkes, Times, 3/21). Providing treatment at no cost to all HIV-positive people living in the United Kingdom could cut the number of new HIV cases by up to 60%, according to the report (Moss, Sunday Mirror, 3/20). In addition, the report says it is "nonsense" that the government covers the cost of tuberculosis treatment for people regardless of their legal status but does not provide a similar exception for HIV/AIDS, according to the Guardian (Guardian, 3/21).
However, some critics say that providing treatment at no cost to anyone living in the United Kingdom could "open the doors to a huge influx of health tourists," London's Sunday Mirror reports (Sunday Mirror, 3/20). Health Minister John Hutton said, "We simply do not agree that all illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers with HIV should receive free treatment without question. The NHS has always had the power to charge nonresidents for these services. [W]e have simply strengthened the rules to give NHS staff more clarity over who is eligible for free treatment." However, Hutton said NHS will continue to provide treatment to any HIV-positive person whose condition is "immediately life-threatening" (Times, 3/21). David Hinchliffe, chair of the independent health committee and member of Parliament of the ruling Labour Party, agreed that it is "vital" that Britain not become a "magnet" for HIV/AIDS patients seeking free medical care, but he said the committee has seen "no evidence that this is happening" (Guardian, 3/21).
HIV/AIDS Advocates' Reaction
"Unless HIV treatment is provided to all who need it in the U.K., helping to suppress their viral load and keeping them in touch with health workers, we will see a higher level of transmission of the virus -- and nobody wants that," Nick Partridge, director of the HIV/AIDS advocacy group Terrence Higgins Trust, said. Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns at the advocacy group National AIDS Trust, said the government "must act" on the committee's recommendations, according to BBC News. "It is a false economy, costing the NHS more in emergency treatment, when people who cannot pay these charges subsequently become seriously ill," Azad said (BBC News, 3/20).