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HIV outbreak in Glasgow linked with cocaine and homelessness

Syringe - credit Kevin Karns

HIV outbreak in Glasgow linked with cocaine and homelessness

A massive spike in HIV infections in the centre of Glasgow has been linked to a rise in homelessness and people increasingly injecting cocaine, a study published in medical journal the Lancet has found.

The increase is the UK’s largest HIV outbreak in more than 30 years.

Cases had remained relatively stable until around 2015, after which over 100 new cases were identified.

Lead author of the report, Dr Andrew McAuley of Glasgow Caledonian University, said the findings show the need for a safe injecting facility in the city, something which councillors have campaigned for but has been refused by the Home Office.

“The prevalence of HIV has been low and stable in this population since major outbreaks of HIV in the 1980s in Edinburgh and Dundee,” he said.

“However, the prevalence of HIV in Glasgow has increased 10-fold among people who inject drugs in the past seven years, from just 1 per cent to over 10 per cent in the city centre.

“The key drivers of infection are an increase in cocaine injecting, and homelessness.

“We also have a large population of people who inject in public places in Glasgow at a time when HIV has re-emerged.

“A combination of these factors has created a perfect storm for rapid transmission of HIV among people who inject drugs in Glasgow.”

The research was carried out with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the University of the West of Scotland, who are also involved in the Needle Exchange Surveillance Initiative (NESI) surveys.

Scottish Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the findings showed why “innovative, evidence-based approaches” like a controlled consumption clinic should be considered.

“Prevention of HIV infection remains a priority for the Scottish Government. There is absolutely no room for complacency,” he said.

“I have visited the team in Glasgow who are working to tackle the HIV outbreak amongst people who inject drugs and was impressed by their commitment to collaborative working to make sure the most vulnerable people get the support they need to access testing and treatment.”

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