In mid-June, it was the turn of the AIDES charity and its French partners Amiens University Hospital and IREPS (Regional health education and promotion authority) Picardie to welcome a British delegation which had come from over the water in Kent to learn about the HIV screening and care system in France. The French partners had made a similar visit to England at the end of 2013 but, as we will see, this project was not just a twinning exercise, but something much more exciting.
These cross-border exchanges were in fact part of an Interreg (1) project, funded by the European Union and entitled Impress Health 2, which aims to reduce the number of late diagnoses in two regions (Picardie in France and Kent in the UK) which are separated by the Channel. As Thierry Brechon-Cornery, President of the AIDES Picardie action zone, explained: “The two regions have much in common in terms of their epidemiology: relatively low prevalence but at the same time a very high rate of late diagnosis, which presents challenges for patient support later on.”
The project therefore began with research in both regions to determine the reasons behind the high rate of late diagnosis, and to identify the populations affected. “On both sides of the Channel”, said Frédéric Lancel, AIDES action zone representative for Amiens, “we’ve realized that this is an issue which concerns the general population just as much as communities already known to be vulnerable.” The second stage of the project aims to bring down the rate of late diagnosis. Pierre-Olivier Le Clanche, AIDES regional action zone co-ordinator for Picardie, explained: “This is where AIDES has an especially important role to play in Picardie, particularly through use of our TROD rapid indicative screening tool to reach the target populations identified in the study. Other initiatives are also planned, including a campaign to promote screening, centred around 1st December, and measures to raise awareness among care and support staff: we realized that most patients had passed through the care system without even being offered an HIV test, meaning a lot of opportunities had been missed.”
This European project will be completed in June 2015.
(1) The Interreg programme receives 7.75 billion euros of funding from ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), and aims to promote cooperation between European regions and the development of common solutions in urban, rural and coastal development areas, economic development, and environmental and health management. The current programme, Interreg IV, covers the period 2007-2015.
About Impress Health 2
The aim of Impress Health 2 is to support efforts to combat HIV by understanding the barriers to screening. As the project information sheet indicates: “Studies of individuals’ behaviour, awareness-raising measures, and medical staff training will be geared towards improving early HIV diagnosis”. Aside from AIDES, key project partners include Canterbury Christ Church University, a leading public sector education and training provider, and the main provider of education and training programmes for health and social care professionals in the Kent and Medway region; Amiens University Hospital in Picardie, which is “the largest public service enterprise in Picardie” with “around 5,500 staff caring for patients and providing 1,600 beds and places”, and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, represented by the genito-urinary medicine department of Maidstone Hospital. Led by its consultants, the department currently treats just over 200 HIV-positive patients and has seen, like the rest of the Kent and Medway region and Picardie, a high rate of late HIV diagnosis, particularly in recent years. Also involved in the project are Kent County Council and the Health and Europe Centre.