The number of people diagnosed with HIV in the UK has reached a record high, passing 100,000 for the first time, the Terrence Higgins Trust said.
Though the number is "worryingly high" according to Paul Ward from the Terrence Higgins Trust, it is better to have people diagnosed and getting the world class treatment available in the UK, than continuing unaware of their infection.
HIV infection in the UK continues to pose a major health threat to thousands of people, and for the first time, the number of people living with the infection has hit 100,000.
The Terrence Higgins Trust has welcomed the changes announced by the Department of Health today that will enable those living with HIV to carry out certain procedures in patients.
Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust said:
Advances in medication have transformed what it means to live with HIV, and it’s great to see regulations starting to catch up. People diagnosed in good time can have full, healthy lives, and effective treatment dramatically reduces the risk of the virus being passed on. So long as the right safeguards are in place, there is now no reason why a dentist or a midwife with HIV should be barred from treating patients, or why people who would prefer to test at home should be denied that chance.
Legislation plays a vital role in shaping attitudes. We hope these changes continue to improve public understanding of HIV and support for those living with the virus.
Approximately 22,600 people in the UK do not know they have the HIV virus according to the Health Protection Agency.
The Government's Chief Medical Officer hopes to reduce this number by lifting the ban on a home HIV test.
Dame Sally Davies denied this was a cost-saving move and wanted to encourage more people to get tested for the disease.
She said: "This is about allowing people who don't want to go to a clinic unless they might have it, checking themselves."
British Dental Association scientific adviser Prof Damien Walmsley has welcomed plans to lift a ban on NHS workers with HIV - including dentists - carrying out certain treatments on patients.
He said the new policy brought the UK in line with many other countries.
"Dentists in the UK comply with rigorous infection control procedures to protect both patients and the dental team against the risk of transmission of blood-borne infections," he added.
Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust has hailed the new policy for NHS workers with HIV for being "based on up-to-date scientific evidence and not on fear, stigma or outdated information".
Allowing healthcare workers living with HIV to undertake exposure-prone procedures corrects the current guidance which offers no more protection for the general public but keeps qualified and skilled people from working in the career they had spent many years training for.
Self-testing kits for HIV will be legalised in the UK from April 2014, with the aim of improving early detection of the disease.
If a test is positive, people will be advised to have a follow-up test at an NHS clinic to confirm the results.
According to the latest estimates, there are about 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV, although experts say a quarter of those who are infected do not know they have it.
In 2011, there were around 6,000 new diagnoses of HIV in the UK.
England's chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has said it is time to scrap "outdated rules" which ban NHS workers with HIV carrying out certain procedures on patients.
At the moment we bar totally safe healthcare workers who are on treatment with HIV from performing many surgical treatments, and that includes dentists.
What we want to do - and want to get over - is how society needs to move from thinking about HIV as positive or negative and thinking about HIV as a death sentence, to thinking about whether they're infectious or not infectious.
She said that with effective treatment "people are leading lives that are normal in quality and length".
"With effective treatment, they are not infectious," she added.
Under new rules, healthcare workers with HIV will be allowed to undertake all procedures if the following conditions are met:
- They are on effective combination anti-retroviral drug therapy.
- They must also have an undetectable viral load of HIV in their system.
- Public Health England will set up a confidential register holding data on infected workers, including on their viral load and treatment.
- In addition, staff must be monitored every three months by the person treating them and by occupational health professionals.