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'Train staff to fight HIV discrimination'

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Healthcare staff should be trained to help combat discrimination against HIV patients, Welsh Assembly members have said.

They said specialist consultants and nurses should provide in-house training on advances in HIV care for other medical staff.

The cross-party equality of opportunity committee heard there was still a general lack of understanding about how HIV is transmitted and treated.

The perception of the disease is often outdated and based on public health campaigns from the 1980s and 90s, it said in a report.

Many people still see it as a death sentence, despite a far improved prognosis for patients continuing their everyday lives, the committee said.

It called for a new publicity campaign to teach people the facts.

It found a persistent stigma attached to the virus, but found “there was very little formal evidence of discrimination available”, despite hearing of anecdotal cases.

Witnesses had differing perceptions about discrimination. A GP or dentist might think it a good clinical decision to refer a patient to a specialist, while the patient might see it as an unwillingness to provide general healthcare.

Disability discrimination legislation was extended in 2005 to give people with HIV rights against unfair treatment.

In 2007, the Health Protection Agency estimated about 77,400 people in the UK were HIV positive, about 28% of whom were thought to be undiagnosed.

Committee chairwoman Ann Jones said: “A key point that this inquiry has highlighted is that there are differences in opinion about whether discriminatory behaviours are the result of a lack of knowledge and experience, or a reflection of discriminatory or prejudicial attitudes.

“The committee’s recommendation that healthcare workers are sufficiently informed is therefore of pivotal importance.”

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