Archive for December, 2011

From MacMillan Cancer Support:

This woman is being treated with docetaxel for...

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Macmillan Cancer Support has strongly criticised a Department of Work and Pensions decision to propose changes to the benefits system which could have devastating consequences for many thousands of cancer patients[1]. Under the plans being consulted on, seriously ill cancer patients in the middle of gruelling intravenous chemotherapy treatment will be forced to prove they are too sick to work. Some patients will have to face back-to-work interviews or be denied a crucial benefit – Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

This is despite unambiguous recommendations from cancer experts and 30 cancer charities[2] who have clearly stated that patients going through debilitating cancer treatment – and who have to leave work – should be automatically eligible for ESA.

Until now, cancer patients receiving non-oral chemotherapy have been exempt from work-focused interviews and medical assessments to determine whether they may be fit for work, while oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy patients have not been given this protection. Cancer charities, representing the views of patients, have asked the DWP to end this discrepancy as the side-effects of oral chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be just as physically debilitating as non oral chemotherapy. However, instead of extending exemptions to particularly vulnerable cancer patients, the DWP is proposing to remove these from all.

This announcement also comes despite the Government’s repeated assurances that they had no interest in making it harder for cancer patients to access benefits while they are undergoing debilitating treatment[3] and would reverse changes introduced only months ago to extend protection to patients awaiting chemotherapy.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says:

“Cancer patients in the middle of treatment are, in many cases, fighting for their lives. Yet the Government is proposing to change the rules so all cancer patients will have to undergo a stressful assessment to prove they are unable to work. This shows a clear disregard and misunderstanding of what it’s like to undergo punishing treatment. Patients who previously had peace of mind would face the stress and practical difficulties of getting assessed for work they are too poorly to do.

“To make matters worse, the Government is pressing ahead with proposed changes in the Welfare Reform Bill that will make 7,000 cancer patients lose ESA after 12 months simply because they have not recovered quickly enough.

“We hope Ministers will rethink these proposals and listen to the clear views of the cancer community. Cancer is the toughest fight many people will have to face, the Government should not be making it tougher for them.”

Macmillan has launched a petition to call on the Government to make changes to the Welfare Reform Bill:


You should by all means sign the petition but you should also stick with it and make sure you hold the Tories to account for such a disgusting policy! People on chemotherapy will actually have to prove they’re too sick to work? I don’t think there’s anything in that which merits any further comment, do you?

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And how shocking to need another Tory to label it as such?!

The excellent blog Lonely Boy Blue asks:

Today HIVers can take as little as one pill-a-day and keep HIV in check.  We can lead nearly normal lives, looking like everyone on the street, blending in.  As a result, HIV education and prevention has fallen in priority. Government funding is being cut. This year in London alone the NHS cut funding to HIV programmes by 43% in spite of a 73% increase in diagnoses in the last decade.*  It’s no longer a pressing concern. Why continue funding HIV education and prevention if no one is dying because of these great drugs?

We have lost site of the importance of HIV education and prevention.  We all have become complacent in our attitudes towards HIV because people can and are living longer on these drugs.  The attitude among gay men is worse than their straight counterparts. Gay men know they should wear condoms to protect themselves from contracting the virus, yet younger men are the latest increase in HIV diagnoses.  It is estimated that over the last year over 6000 contracted HIV in the UK.  More than 17 people everyday in the UK are contracting HIV!  WHY? Why are people still contracting HIV?

A couple more statistics worth noting: according the HPA report on HIV in the UK, “Half of adults were diagnosed with HIV at a late stage of infection in 2009 (CD4 counts less than 350 per mm3 within three months of diagnosis), the stage at which treatment is recommended to begin. “ “One in six MSM (men having sex with men), and one in sixteen heterosexuals newly diagnosed with HIV had acquired their infection within the previous 4-5 months before diagnosis.” “New diagnoses among MSM remained high…; four out of five probably acquired their infection in the UK.”

All of this leads me to my feeling being let down.  I have been let down by the government.  Let down by society.  Let down by you!  A quick look at the events for World AIDS Day 2011 at show just how little education, prevention or testing account for this day’s activties!  And you, dear reader, are the reason it happens.  You, dear reader, support these bars, pubs, and clubs, which use World AIDS Day as another way to make money for themselves (someone please explain to me what a strip-a-thon or cheaper entry fees into clubs if you wear a red ribbon have to do with HIV education, prevention or testing).  You lessen the importance of today by going out and getting drunk, some of you taking drugs, both of which lowers inhibitions and can lead to unsafe sex practices and in the biggest irony of the day could very well lead to you contracting HIV!

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To all the Christians who wonder how atheists can celebrate/enjoy Christmas…

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Seems I wasn’t the only one who noticed David Cameron’s curious reticence about mentioning gay men and HIV together. Peter Tatchell takes the Tories to task:

What safer sex information is taught in schools is wholly oriented to heterosexual pupils. Gay and bisexual students get no specific advice on how to have gay sex safely.

Many faith schools and independent schools are getting away with neglecting their pupil’s HIV education. They put their own dogmas and embarrassment about sexual matters before the health and welfare of young people.

Frank, detailed and effective HIV awareness and prevention education should be mandatory in all schools from primary level onwards, before pupils become sexually active and adopt unsafe sexual habits.

The needs of gay and bisexual men continue to be under-resourced. HIV prevention campaigns targeted at men who have sex with men are not working, as evidenced by the high number of new HIV infections.

Having won so many gains in terms of legal rights and social acceptance, we need to ensure that we remain healthy to enjoy the benefits of equality. We may have to rethink some HIV prevention advertising campaigns to make them more hard-hitting and impactive. The level of new infections in our community needs to be cut very significantly.

Access to effective HIV prevention information and to high quality HIV health-care are human rights. They should be available to all.

Peter makes an invaluable point. The message that’s getting out there isn’t connecting with the people it needs to connect with – a point made very clear by UK Positive Lad. It suggests as far as gay men’s needs go, something is getting in the way, be it governmental indifference, complacency from within the gay community or (as Peter suggests) entirely misguided HIV prevention campaigns. A shift of attitudes needs to take place, but also a shift of ideas, not least of which needs to be acknowledging that gay people have become invisible at the heart of the pandemic, even though we comprise the majority of people actually getting infected. The other issues Peter refers to then need to lead the way from there, both in schools and in clinics, which really need to sit up and pay attention.

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I don’t hear a thing about homosexuality, just vague talk about saving Africans thousands of miles away. Of course it’s right that everything possible be done to prevent the spread of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, but to me it’s notable that he’s not talking about gay men, the largest body (in the UK) of continuing infections. By not doing so he’s contributing to HIV invisibility where it’s doing the greatest damage, making his words about tackling the stigma of infection ring particularly hollow.

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