‘Rapid’ HIV tests rollout in Scotland to tackle worst outbreak in decades

New HIV tests that provide results in minutes have been introduced in Glasgow to help tackle the worst outbreak of the infection in decades.

Addiction workers are offering the new finger prick blood tests at needle exchanges in the city as part of work to tackle the spread of the virus among drug users who share needles.

Previously, test results could take up to two weeks to come back from the laboratory and it could be difficult to trace people to tell them the outcome.

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Around 170 people are believed to have contracted HIV since the current outbreak began. That compares with an average of 10 diagnoses per year prior to 2015.

New HIV tests that provide results in minutes have been introduced in Glasgow.

However, it is feared the actual number may be much higher as many drug users do not engage with needle exchange services that offer blood tests.

Around half of people diagnosed last year acquired HIV recently, a sign that the outbreak is ongoing.

The so-called ‘rapid’ HIV tests were first piloted by Waverley Care charity and Glasgow’s blood borne virus team.

They are currently available at a number of needle exchanges in the city, and Waverley’s street team has been testing and supporting those at risk with HIV since November 2018.

However, the rollout of the faster testing kits across the city by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (GCHSP) marks a significant step up in efforts to deal with the outbreak.

John Campbell, injecting equipment provision improvement manager at GCHSCP, said: “Undoubtedly, the current HIV outbreak is due to people sharing drug-taking equipment, often on public injecting sites in the city centre.

“Glasgow has some of the best needle exchange services in the world but it is very hard for us to influence people’s injecting behaviour unless professionals are present when they inject.

“Currently, people are injecting outdoors in filthy, sometimes urine-soaked alleyways or on derelict ground.

“This is causing all sorts of harms from ulcers and maggot-infested wounds to HIV and Hepatitis C infections.”

He added: “Blood borne virus infections such as HIV are just one of the reasons why Glasgow urgently needs a safer drug consumption facility to ensure people have a clean, safe place where they can be supervised when injecting and with access to harm reduction advice, running water, wound treatment and clean needles.”

Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government have been calling for a safe consumption room in recent years.

The Home Office has repeatedly refused to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow the centre to move forward and a UK Government spokeswoman confirmed it has no plans to introduce such centres.

Last November alone, needle exchanges in Greater Glasgow gave out 25,000 needles and sheets of foil, GCHSCP said.

Safe sharps disposal boxes are also supplied for free but needles are still discarded in public, raising concerns for communities.

Mr Campbell said the new tests will help people get the treatment they need.

He said: “Previously, HIV test results could take up to two weeks to come back from the lab.

“This was a problem because the people we work with have very chaotic lifestyles, they may not be in the city centre in two weeks.

“We may get their results back, saying they have tested positive, but we can’t find them to tell them and minimise the risk of further infection.

“With these new tests we have the results in minutes and if they are positive, we can link the person into treatment instantly and if it’s negative, we can provide them with harm reduction advice which will help keep them that way.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said discussions on how it can “most effectively prevent the health-related harms of drugs misuse” will take place at the drugs summit it is holding in Glasgow next Thursday, a day after a Scottish Government summit on the same issue.