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HIV pushing sufferers in Britain into poverty

Thu Nov 30, 2006

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Shortly after breaking up with his partner, a British man with HIV found that his address was posted in a shop window along with a warning that he was an AIDS carrier.

Days later he was beaten with chair legs by men in his home.

"I spent years coming to terms with living with HIV, then just one person turned my life around through pure spite," said John, a 36-year-old who lives in the Midlands.

Twenty-five years into the AIDS epidemic, people infected with the virus still face hate crimes, stigma, discrimination and abuse. In Britain where an estimated 63,000 people are infected with HIV, it is driving many sufferers into extreme poverty.

"It is a real enough phenomenon for us to need to do something about it," said Yusef Azad of the National AIDS Trust (NAT) in Britain.

A report by the trust and Crusaid, a charity dedicated to helping people affected by HIV/AIDS, shows a third of all people diagnosed with HIV in Britain have sought hardship help to relieve their poverty.

"We're talking very significant proportions of people living with HIV who are having to deal with poverty issues," Azad said in an interview.

"HIV often drives people into poverty and poverty makes the condition more difficult to manage and deal with," he added.


The report, released on World AIDS Day, highlights cases of people hounded out of jobs because of their HIV status, or who faced discrimination when they tried to get one. Others live in sub-standard housing and have been abandoned by friends and family and ostracized by their community.

"My bosses never said anything in particular but kept making it clear that I should consider taking a long rest and maybe not return at all," said Graham, who eventually quit because he felt so isolated.

Britain has one of the highest increasing rates of HIV in Europe. In 2005 it recorded the biggest ever number of new HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men. About 85 percent of the rise in heterosexual transmissions is in people who migrated from other countries with high infection rates.

"The worrying thing is that, at a time when HIV is probably the most serious communicable disease threat for the UK, funds for HIV prevention are being cut," said Azad.

More people are being pushed into poverty because of HIV/AIDS and it is becoming more extreme. In the past people sought money from Crusaid's hardship fund to buy items such as appliances. Now it is for food.

"The depths of destitution and the depths of need are much more severe than they have been in the past. The people in those categories, and there are many more of them, tend to be people within the asylum and immigration system," according to Azad.

The report called for the government and police to establish policies that explicitly address HIV hate crimes and help tackle unemployment and poor housing among people with HIV.

"The asylum and immigration system needs to insure people living with HIV have enough to live on ... and should allow people who have been here for six months the right to work," Azad added.

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