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HIV prevention efforts are working well in the UK

New HIV diagnoses in UK fell 17% between 2016 and 2017

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Efforts to prevent HIV and diagnose any new cases of the virus appear to be working well in the UK, according to a report* published today.

The report from Public Health England (PHE) showed the UK is one of the first countries to meet the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 targets, highlighting that prevention efforts are working in the UK.

The UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets aim to eliminate AIDS by 2030 by ensuring 90% of people living with HIV are diagnosed, 90% of people diagnosed are receiving anti-retroviral therapy and 90% of people on treatment are virally suppressed and unable to pass on the infection.

New estimates in the PHE report revealed that in 2017, 92% of people living with HIV in the UK have been diagnosed, 98% of those diagnosed were on treatment, and 97% of those on treatment were virally suppressed.

In 2017, it was estimated there were a total of 102,000 people living with HIV in the UK, with 8% (8,200) unaware of their infection.

As a result of treatment, 87% of all people living with HIV had an undetectable viral load and were unable to pass on their infection to other people.

PHE said that new HIV diagnoses continued to decline in the UK, falling 17% from 5,280 in 2016 to 4,363 in 2017.

The reduction in new diagnoses continues the downward trend in HIV transmission among gay and bisexual men that started in 2012.

PHE said the UK success was largely due to a combination of HIV prevention efforts that included condom use, increased HIV testing, reductions in time to starting treatment, and, potentially, the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

However, more could be done to eliminate HIV in the UK, said the report.

In 2017, 43% (1,879) of new HIV diagnoses were made at a late stage of HIV infection and while numbers of late HIV diagnoses had fallen, there continued to be missed opportunities for early diagnosis that could help people with HIV live a long and healthy life.

Professor Noel Gill, head of STIs & HIV at PHE, said: “There can be no doubt prevention efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the UK are working. Our efforts must continue apace in order to eliminate HIV.

“With an estimated 8,000 people still unaware of their infection it is vital that people seek out an HIV test if they consider themselves at risk, or accept the offer of an HIV test by a healthcare professional, as early diagnosis is key to stopping transmission.

“Treatment for HIV is freely available and highly effective, enabling people to live a long, healthy life. There are now a variety of ways people can protect themselves from being infected with or passing on HIV, including use of condoms; PrEP; regular HIV testing; and prompt initiation of antiretroviral treatment.”

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Now in the UK, almost everyone with HIV is not only diagnosed and in treatment but living long, healthy lives - and we’re one of just a handful of countries to meet these ambitious UN targets.

“This didn’t seem possible just a few decades ago but thanks to the efforts of public health bodies, charities and the NHS to encourage early testing and pioneer high quality treatment, we are pushing ahead in the fight against HIV.”

*HIV in the United Kingdom. A report prepared by Public Health England, 29 November 2018. 

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