Data published today reveals that new HIV diagnoses decreased by 17% in 2017, meaning that rates have fallen for the second year in a row.
Public Health England (PHE) have reported that there were 5,280 new cases in 2016, but there were only 4,363 in 2017 – their lowest level since 2000.
‘We are pleased to see that UK prevention efforts are having a significant impact on new HIV diagnoses […] However, we know that anyone who has sex with a casual partner without a condom or shares needles may be at risk of infection,’ said Noel Gill, head of the STI and HIV department at PHE.
‘The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is through having sex without a condom – so consistent and correct condom use with new and casual partners stops you getting or transmitting HIV and other STIs. If you think you have been exposed to HIV it is easy to get tested so, if positive, you can start treatment as soon as possible.’
HIV diagnoses have been steadily decreasing, with an overall reduction of 28% between 2015 and 2017.
This reduction was seen most prominently among gay and bisexual men, which is mostly due to a higher uptake of HIV testing and increased use of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) – a drug that keeps the level of HIV in the body low and therefore prevents it being passed on.
‘HIV is a devastating and life-altering disease. Today’s figures mean we are well on our way to eradicating it once and for all but we have not an ounce of complacency,’ said Steve Brine, public health minister.
‘Our commitment to prevention has led to more people getting tested and almost every person with a diagnosis is now in treatment – meaning they are unlikely to pass the virus on to someone else.’
There are effective treatments for those living with HIV that can allow for a long and healthy life as long as they are diagnosed early – testing is free in GP surgeries, local hospitals and sexual health clinics and there are now home-testing kits available over-the-counter.
‘Recent massive cuts to HIV prevention expenditure must be reversed if we are to avoid progress stalling. The enormous pressure on chronically underfunded sexual health clinics must be relieved, to ensure that they are able to meet need,’ said Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, the UK’s leading HIV charity.
‘The current rationing of PrEP in England must end, to ensure it is available to everyone who needs it. It would be a terrible mistake, at this potential turning point in the epidemic, to lose focus and leave the task undone.’