CALLS have been made for HIV to be diagnosed earlier as more than half of people in Southend with virus are unaware for at least four years.

The National Aids Trust has called on Southend Council to do more as 56 per cent of people in the own with HIV have had the disease for at least four years before it is diagnosed.

The charity called for councillors, who were given responsibility for public health in 2012, to make tackling the virus a priority ahead of next month’s local elections.

Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns for the National AIDS Trust, said: “Reducing the late diagnosis of HIV is a key public health responsibility for local councils, so these elections represent a real opportunity for councillors and political groups in Southend to make tackling the late diagnosis of HIV in the area a priority.

“The May 2014 elections will be the first to take place since local authorities regained their responsibility for public health – now councillors and political groups in Southend can make a lasting difference to the lives of people with HIV in their communities.”

Late diagnosis of HIV can result in poorer health, a decreased life expectancy and a greater chance of passing the virus on. People diagnosed late also have an 11-fold increased risk of death within one year of HIV diagnosis compared to those diagnosed promptly.

Southend is classed as a “high prevalence” area, meaning it has at least two people in every 1,000 living with diagnosed HIV.

Around one in every 355 people in Southend live with diagnosed HIV, 50 per cent lower than the national figure of one in 546.

The percentage of people in Southend diagnosed earlier than four years has increased by two points since 2011, but it is still below the England average for late diagnosis, which stands at 48 per cent.

St Laurence councillor Mark Flewitt, who is a campaigner on HIV and AIDS issues, said: “You couldn’t have a more important issue to local government than late diagnosis of HIV.

“It’s essential that once we have got the election out of the way, we must make a very special point of having a watching brief on this, just as we are going to have on grammar school entry.”