Large drop in HIV infections in the UK

The number of gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men living undiagnosed with HIV has halved since 2014 from an estimated 7,000 to 3,600 in 2018.

“The scale-up of combination prevention (which includes the use of condoms, HIV testing in a wide range of settings, starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible if positive, and the availability of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for those who are negative) across the UK is working,” said Public Health England.

The UK is one of the few countries in the world to have reached and exceeded all UNAIDS 90:90:90 targets. Of the 103,800 people living with HIV in the UK in 2018, 93% were diagnosed, 97% of people diagnosed were receiving treatment and 97% of people receiving treatment were virally suppressed.

The Terence Higgins Trust, however, warned against complacency and said that while there has been a great success, there is a slowing of the decline in new diagnoses. The organisation also noted that access to the PrEP HIV prevention pill remains limited in England and sexual health services are struggling to cope with demand.

“We won’t end HIV transmissions simply with business as usual as it’s that complacency which poses the biggest barrier to ending the epidemic,” said Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust. “While the last few years have been a real success story for bringing down new HIV diagnoses, [the latest] data shows there is an undeniable slowing happening.”

Laycock continued: “We know that stigma continues to be a huge barrier in preventing people coming forward to getting tested. The new data is further evidence of the crucial role people living with HIV are playing in ending transmissions as effective treatment means the virus can’t be passed on. That’s why ensuring people living with HIV are able to live well must be a key priority.”

On the issue of capped PrEP access, Laycock said: “Waiting lists across the country are growing and we know that several men have been diagnosed with HIV while trying to access PrEP. This is a scandal and underlines why the limited availability of PrEP risks seriously holding us back in the fight against HIV.

“We will not stop fighting until PrEP is given a proper home as part of routine sexual health services and is accessible to all who need it, as well as ensuring it’s properly promoted to all groups impacted by HIV.”