PrEP is helping to reduce HIV infections in the UK

New HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men are at their lowest in 20 years in the UK, attributed in part to the growing use of PrEP, the daily HIV prevention pill.

A recent report by Public Health England showed that for the first time the number of new HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men (GBM) outnumber new diagnoses in heterosexual adults by only 100 cases.

There were 1,700 new HIV diagnoses in GBM in 2019 compared to around 1,600 cases in heterosexual adults.

HIV transmission in GBM has fallen by 80%; newly acquired HIV infections fell from an estimated peak of 2,700 cases in 2011.

Overall, the number of people with a new HIV diagnoses fell by 10% (from 4,580 in 2018 to 4,139 in 2019). There was also a 34% decline from a peak of 6,312 new diagnoses in 2014.

Public Health England said that the decline in HIV transmission in GBM can be directly linked to the increase in combination prevention.

This includes: The use of condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), frequent HIV testing in a wide range of settings and starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible after diagnosis.

Treatment is now so effective that 97% of people receiving ART in the UK have undetectable levels of virus, which means it is impossible to pass the virus on, even if having sex without condoms. Undetectable = untransmittable (U=U).

“In the UK, we have made great progress towards eliminating HIV transmission by 2030. Frequent HIV testing, the offer of PrEP among those most at risk of HIV, together with prompt treatment among those diagnosed, remain key to ending HIV transmission by 2030,” said Dr Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV Surveillance at PHE.

“Further progress can only be achieved if we also address the inequalities in reducing HIV transmission that exist around sexuality, ethnicity and geography,” she added.

The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is through sex with a person who is unaware of their HIV infection.

You can protect yourself from HIV by consistent and correct condom use with new and casual partners, by using PrEP, or if your partner is on treatment and is undetectable if they are living with HIV. Correct and consistent condom use will also stop you getting or transmitting other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).

OUT offers free PrEP to men who have sex with men (MSM) through its Engage Men’s Health programme in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. For more information call or WhatsApp 082 607 1686.