No medical care for 55 per cent of HIV positive asylum seekers

Research shows that they wait for more than four years for Home Office’s decision 12th February 2009: Some 55 per cent of asylum seekers in the UK living with HIV and AIDS have to wait for more than four years for a Home Office decision on their right to remain, a new research shows.
The research by Crusaid, the leading HIV and AIDS charity offering help and hope to people living in poverty shows that as they wait for this decision to be made, the asylum seekers lack the basic facilities to maintain their health.

The figures, contained a report sponsored by GlaxoSmithKlein’s Positive Action programme and entitled, "Poverty Without Borders", were released at Crusaid’s second HIV and Poverty conference, which tool place from 3rd to 4th February at Amnesty International.

Speaking at the conference, Neil Gerrard MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary group on Refugees, said of the report’s findings: "I think it is really striking. The change over the years of the number of people who are coming to the Crusaid Hardship Fund who are also in the immigration system – this degree of poverty is astounding. Fifty five percent is a shocking percentage and included in that would be people who even according to the regulations as tough as they were, should have been getting health care."

This disappointing statistic comes just days after the National Audit Office announced that asylum applications were taking even longer to process, despite a government pledge to cut turn-around times for those requesting the right to call the UK home.

The conference brought together statutory and non-statutory stakeholders responding to the needs of the community living with HIV and AIDS in the UK today.

It follows on the success of Crusaid’s 2006 HIV and Poverty conference, which resulted in the creation of "The 2006 Poverty and HIV Report", a widely-used recommendations document on housing, dependants and social care; asylum and immigration; and discrimination, hate crime and abuse.

"Poverty Without Borders" highlights that the vast majority of asylum seekers living with HIV and AIDS are unaware of their status before they reach the UK. Living in uncertainty and with a new diagnosis, this group can face serious health deterioration whilst they are unable pay for the necessities that would keep them fit.

As well as the health implications of their new diagnosis, the report also exposes the social barriers faced by immigrants in need of medical attention here in the UK and the stigma and discrimination such groups face in their communities and more surprisingly at the hands of some healthcare professionals.

"I’m afraid, sadly that there is evidence that people who suffer from stigma and discrimination do experience it from healthcare professionals. We are told that this doesn’t happen, but there is evidence that it does. It’s a general problem. It’s not fair to say that it’s out there in the public and the health system is fine and I’m afraid that’s not the case. There’s a real need for education for people working in healthcare," added Gerrard MP.

The Crusaid Hardship Fund supports some of the most vulnerable people in the UK today living with HIV and AIDS, many of whom have no recourse to any public funds, or the right to work and earn a living, until the Home Office decides their fate.

Amongst the main points, the "Poverty Without Borders" report recommends that: "The Home Office should give clear guidelines and realistic timelines to people with residency issues so they can plan and manage their long-term HIV care."

Crusaid’s Head of Grants and Projects, Steven Inman, who coordinated the research said: "The Home Office backlog certainly won’t make life any easier for many people, who have often fled a traumatic situation elsewhere, only to find they are forced into poverty through delays in decision-making or opportunity once they are in the UK.

"By making it hard for particular groups and communities to access resources such as GP services and housing, society as a whole is affected," added Inman.

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