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We Talked to the UK's Foreign-Born HIV Patients About Being Labeled as 'Health Tourists'

We met some of the HIV positive "health tourists" in the UK to ask if it would be better for Great Britain's tax payers if they just went somewhere and died.
April 7, 2015, 2:30pm

Nigel Farage during the leaders' debate.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Yesterday, YouGov published the results of a poll in which half the respondents agreed that foreign-born HIV patients cost the National Health Service too much money. This followed UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage's widely condemned comments during the seven way party debate last week. At the debate, Farage said that 60 percent of the 7,000 people diagnosed HIV positive every year in the UK are born abroad and costing the UK millions.


These statistics are false, obviously, but that's beside the point. The fact remains that people living with HIV can come to Britain from anywhere in the world, and get £25,000 [$37,000] in drugs per year (assuming they are allowed into the country), bleeding the country's resources dry. It's not the International Health Service, Nigel continues to proudly tell anyone who'll listen, as he's clearly worked out that otherwise it would be IHS, not NHS.

Does Nigel have a point? Wouldn't we be able to cut tax on beer and cigarettes if we stopped giving people life-saving drugs? Can a few thousand foreign-born HIV patients be held responsible for the NHS's "financial black hole"? I went to meet some of these HIV positive "health tourists" to find out how their holiday's are going and ask whether it would be cheaper for everyone if they just went somewhere and died.

Angelina Namiba, born in Kenya

VICE: So did you decide to come to the UK when you were diagnosed as HIV positive?
Angelina: I didn't. I was diagnosed as being HIV positive after being in the UK for four years, having been a student at University in Manchester.

Nigel Farage has said you're a drain on society.
I don't accept that. I've worked my entire adult life here. I'm currently a project manager for a leading charity, Positively UK, and a trustee for a couple of others. I'm a tax-paying, civically contributing member of British society.


Maybe you're the exception then.
I don't think so. I'm very typical of migrants who come to the UK. Let's be clear, the NHS, and most of our society, runs on migrant labor. If we all downed tools for just one day this country would come to a stand still.

If somebody was ill, let's say in Kenya where I am from, there is no way the average person will be able to afford to buy a ticket to travel to the UK for healthcare. It would take decades to save. The ones who can afford to fly can afford private healthcare in Kenya.

Luca Modesti, born in Italy

Why are you wearing white bunny ears?
Luca: The White Rabbits Project is a new campaign to fight HIV stigma. Myself and other artists want to use Farage's disgusting comments as a positive opportunity to call on all comic artists and illustrators out there to participate and fight HIV stigma through comics and illustrations.

Did you come to the UK once you were diagnosed as HIV positive for the free drugs?
No, I was already living here when I was diagnosed. There is free healthcare for HIV available in all European counties, including Italy. I just like London—it's a cool city to live in.

Were you pissed off that it was only Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood who stood up to Farage during the debate?
Yes, I was sorry. I expected better from the others. Taking to Twitter afterwards really isn't good enough. We need politicians who can challenge this dangerous rhetoric as it is said, not who wait around until the end to see the public reaction.

Christian Sandulescu, born in Romania

Are you a health tourist?
Christian: It's a pretty crap holiday, if so. I spend all my time working for the NHS. I came to the UK in 2008 to study at UCL, I was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2012, whilst I was living here, and this was already my home.


You just got back from France. Were you being a health tourist there?
Nope, I just went to Paris for a piss-up.

How was it?
It was really fun, actually. I do want to commend Nigel Farage though, for raising the issue of how expensive anti-retrovirals are. It's an issue we need to discuss. The companies that make these drugs are a burden on the health budget, making massive profits. That's where the issue is. But to blame HIV positive people is beyond ignorant, using us as a scapegoat. We're already vulnerable and subject to stigma.

Would it just be cheaper if you stopped taking your drugs?
Well, it wouldn't be. It would be much more expensive to have the 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK turning up to the ER and filling hospital wards with fuck knows what problems that the medication we take stops us from getting.

Also, I'd probably die, and I'm a human being, if that counts for anything.

Jarek, born in Poland

Are you a health tourist?
Jarek: Not at all, in fact when Poland joined the EU there were a lot more British people being "health tourists" in Poland than the other way around. There's cheaper dental services, quicker access to operations, too.

I'm Polish, so this isn't the first time I've been bashed by Nigel Farage. I don't think he even believes these arguments he makes, he just wants to put people against each other and play off our fears. That's not what we need.

Silvia Petretti, born in Italy

Did you leave Italy when you were diagnosed as HIV positive to get free drugs?
Silvia: No, I moved to London, and was diagnosed ten years later. Italy is part of the G8, we have hospitals there, too.


So you're not a health tourist?
No, I moved to London as a music tourist, I loved the scene when I arrived. I ended up staying here to study at university and have never got around to leaving.

I've lived here most of my adult life, working full time and paying taxes. I work for a charity, as a Deputy Chief Executive, that supports people with HIV.

What annoys me most about Farage's comments is that he singles out HIV from other illnesses. I've been working for over 15 years with people who are HIV positive. It's a manageable condition—well, I'd be dead otherwise. But the stigma—that leads to mental health problems, isolation, and a poor quality of life, can cause people to not take their medication, or refuse to go for testing because they are scared of the results. It can lead to devastating consequences. Giving any message that increases this fear is terrible, and really worrying.

Whatever the illness, when people are supported, they can go on to lead a normal life and contribute to the community we live in.

Nigel Farage said that people with HIV are stopping 85-year-old women with breast cancer from getting treatment.
It's just not true. We shouldn't be having a competition between illnesses. The problem isn't people with HIV, it's the multinational corporations that don't pay their taxes. We can only judge our society by the way that we treat the most vulnerable, and we should do this to the best of our capacity. We can't blame those around us who get sick. We're only human.

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