Homelessness and drug addiction have led to a rise in HIV cases in Glasgow
The city in the eye of an HIV ‘perfect storm’
Glasgow has seen the UK’s worst outbreak of HIV in 30 years, according to the city’s health workers, and the problem is still getting worse. New cases have emerged in the past few weeks and the BBC has learned there have been 157 in total since the outbreak was first detected in 2015. Homeless people and drug users are the groups most affected and health professionals are striving to halt the spread of the virus among them. In Glasgow city centre, the man in front of us sits waiting for the results of his HIV test. It is a stressful experience that might usually take place in a health centre or surgery but instead he is propped up between shop doorways, a bag to his right and a rough square of cardboard beneath him. Shoppers, tourists and people on their lunch break bustle back and forth just feet away, few look down in our direction though. It is discreet but not exactly private. Tension builds on his face as the charity worker watches the rapid-testing kit do its job in their latex-gloved hand. The man being tested wants to pop away to the off-licence to help deal with the tension but is persuaded to stay put. Ordinarily outreach staff might spend 15 minutes chatting before delivering the results but this one comes quickly. “This says you’re absolutely fine,” says the worker with a reassuring smile. “Does it…already?” the man replies, surprise and relief flooding through him. Researchers have described a “perfect storm” that has allowed the HIV virus to spread so quickly. Homelessness is the key factor. Combined with a significant rise in the numbers of people injecting cocaine as well as heroin. People who are sleeping rough can often be seen injecting drugs in public places in the city centre. Sometimes sharing needles and other drug-injecting paraphernalia. We’ve also heard about users so desperate that they will pick up a used needle off the street and inject themselves. Despite knowing the risks of infection.