Aids grants cut in tactical switch: Bottomley to target high-risk groups

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, yesterday signalled a change in the Government's strategy against Aids.

She confirmed that three-year grants of pounds 450,000 each to the Terrence Higgins Trust and the London Lighthouse charity were each to be cut to pounds 150,000. They did not now need so much central funding, Mrs Bottomley told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: 'Our strategy has been extremely successful and effective. From the word 'go' in this country we took HIV and Aids seriously. That is why we have a lower prevalence rate than other countries.'

She cited the Paris area, where there were one-and-a-half times more Aids cases than in the whole of the UK.

The strategy now is to switch tactics so that the safe sex message is concentrated on the high- risk groups, such as homosexuals and drug abusers. Mrs Bottomley said the disease now had to be seen alongside other illnesses such as mental illness, cancer and heart disease.

'Now that the infrastructure is in place we do not need to give it the kind of pump-priming priority as when it was a new and strange disease.'

But Dr Les Rudd, director of the National Aids Trust, said: 'In the current Treasury spending cuts, ministers seem to think Aids is a soft target. It is true that we can take credit for keeping British Aids figures well below French ones, so it is surely illogical to throw away the strategy which has achieved this.

'The Government has not yet released the Public Health Laboratory Service figures which it uses to justify this decision.

'If these figures justify a dramatic change in policy, they should be published before that change in strategy is announced,' Dr Rudd said.

In a Commons answer last week, Tom Sackville, a health minister, said the cumulative total of government funding for Aids since 1885/86 was pounds 886,304,000. During that time there had been 7,331 cases of Aids reported and 16,164 of HIV.

More than pounds 100m had been spent on research and pounds 85m on the national Aids awareness campaign. This year pounds 11.5m is to be spent on publicity, the highest figure since 1989.

Three-quarters of Aids cases were attributed to infection transmitted through sexual relations between men, 10 per cent through relations between men and women and 5 per cent through drug misuse.